The only constant in life is change. As we age, we develop new insight and valuable perspective. But we might also notice some changes in our cognition.
1 in 6 of us who reach the age of 80 will experience these changes in a more profound way than others, and will develop symptoms associated with dementia.
Dementia is a way of describing a set of cognitive impairments that include memory loss and difficulties with language, thinking and problem-solving. How might we use tech to help all older adults live richer lives, and enable people living with dementia to live independently for longer? In partnership with Humanly and BAM Mobile, we successfully applied for an Innovate UK Design Foundations grant to find out.
The week commencing 21 May 2018 is Dementia Action Week. Across the week, we will be sharing content and open-sourcing the insights, concepts and prototypes generated as part of the project. We hope that it will help designers and service providers to take action to create products and services that people living with dementia want and need.
In the summer of 2017, we won funding from Innovate UK's Design Foundations grant programme. This funding would enable us to use human-centred design to consider how technology might support people living with dementia to live independently for longer. There is a good explanation of what human-centred design is here: Design Kit
To deliver this work, we partnered with two award-winning studios: Humanly, a design studio specialising in human-centred design for social impact, and BAM Mobile, who create digital experiences that delight and engage.
Humanly was brought in to lead the team through the full human-centred design process, and began by scoping the underlying problems and desired outcomes of the challenge, which focused on people with dementia still living in the community. Though they were interested in how technology could play a role, keeping the challenge broad at this stage helped keep the team open to other opportunities.
BAM Mobile provided digital capability to support the prototyping phase.
Whilst setting up user research, horizon scanning was conducted to look for existing examples of products and services that were successful, innovative or interesting. These were used as inspiration stimuli to help frame ‘How might we’ questions for the co-creation phase.
An ethnographic approach to research was adopted, which meant that we would be investing our time in observing and interacting with people in their homes and social spaces. Humanly attended events with people with dementia and their carers in the community for example at dementia cafes, day centres and dance groups. This enabled them to meet and speak to people informally, before arranging to conduct more in-depth interviews and observations at people's homes.
Home visits from the Humanly and How Do I? teams also enabled participants to show how dementia affects their daily life and the tools or ‘hacks’ they use to help.
In addition to user research, interviews were conducted with experts in dementia design and medical doctors.
Following our research stage we synthesised our findings to create some key insights. Some of these included:
- Peoples' experiences of dementia are extremely individual and constantly changing
- Skills linked to passions from the past remain long into dementia, even at later stages
- Sensory stimulation can have a huge impact on people with dementia
- For many people with dementia, if they cannot see an item, they forget it’s there
- Night time difficulties are a common trigger for a person moving into care
- In the early stages of dementia, remembering to do a task can be more of an issue than remembering how to do it
- Technology is controversial among people with dementia and their carers
Our own insights and existing research had shown that trying to design for ‘people living with dementia’ as a group was not the best approach, as people's experiences vary dramatically. Instead, detailed case studies were created for each individual who we had interviewed in-depth at home. This enabled Humanly to work with the wider team including How Do I? and BAM Mobile to generate ideas based on each individual’s experiences, challenges and enablers.
Focusing on each person in turn, we developed 6 concepts addressing how technology could potentially support their independence, helping with:
- night terrors
- finding belongings
- and three solutions for scheduling and remembering appointments
Examining all 6 concepts, the team considered how they could work for the participants who had been involved in research and volunteered to take part in prototyping, and how achievable was it to prototype each concept within the timeframe and budget.
From our six key concepts, we identified three NFC-enabled ideas to prototype:
- Digital Cookbook
- Video Calendar
- Medicine Reminder
We presented sketches of the ideas, and how we would prototype them, to our prototyping participants. They then chose which concepts they felt would best suit them and their lifestyles.
We are excited by the opportunities we've uncovered through the project.
From the beginning, we kept an open mind. Would we find tech-based solutions to help people live happier, more independent lives? Would mobile or digital more broadly prove to be a good fit for the group of people we were designing for?
The early results of the work we've undertaken have been very promising. Following the prototyping and testing phase, we met with our prototyping participants to better understand how they interacted with the prototypes. Video proved to be a fun, engaging way of connecting people and providing a layer of support in their everyday lives.
One area for development includes exploring how we can help create habits over a longer time period. Though the tech was well received, the Design Foundations funding was for a 6 month project. We're interested in looking at how we can test and trial our Video Calendar and Digital Cookbook prototype with users over several months and what impact they might have.
We are currently exploring opportunities for this kind of further testing and development. We're proud to have been shortlisted for two prestigious awards: the AAL Smart Ageing Prize and the Essex Challenge Dementia prize programme.