Where good design can make a difference.

Written for Kinneir Dufort: http://www.kinneirdufort.com/blog/diagnosed-dementia-now-what

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Over the last year, some colleagues and I have been working on a self-initiated project investigating how design can help those with dementia.

With the combined experiences of world-renowned designer Julian Brown and support from the research team at Kinneir Dufort, we’ve been able to gather insights into life with dementia, and it’s these that have inspired us to create something that we hope could make a small but important difference to quality of life.

The UK government continues to promote and push forward its ‘Dementia Challenge’, which not only raises awareness and understanding but provides funding into research and care. A great deal of the funding is currently being channelled into improving diagnosis effectiveness. The intention is to identify dementia at earlier stages and in greater numbers than ever before. We began to wonder ‘what next?’ As diagnosis improves, we are going to see more and more cases identified and more capable people who have been brought bad news… what can be done at this point to help them as they struggle to come to terms with a life-changing condition?

Our research brought us first-hand experience of people battling to maintain their old lives and routines, and more often than not watching with frustration as the lives they knew slip slowly and inevitably away from them. We became acutely aware, not only of the practical difficulties of running your home, business or social life, but how influential the emotional side is too. Upon visiting an Alzheimer’s Society ‘Memory Café’ meeting, we learned that people who stay mentally stimulated, feel positive and in control, stay healthier for longer.

We saw an opportunity to help those in the early stages of dementia to retain control over their everyday lives, and help their well-being by staying independent and confident. We believe this is where informed design can make a positive difference.

We call our working concept ‘Elephant.’ It is not a medical device, but a suite of simple, intuitive products that could help anyone with memory difficulties (naturally, including people with early-stage dementia) to manage everyday tasks like money, planning, shopping and socialising. I’ve been trialling some of the ideas myself over the last few months, and have found them so useful I refuse to go back to my old habits!

It is our belief that the answer to this challenge lies not in jumping to a technological solution, but in appropriate design informed by an understanding of people. For this reason, whilst it does include a digital element, the Elephant concept is for the most part a well-considered, low-tech offering that we’re confident a wide range of people could use and benefit from quickly. It will be affordable, flexible and appropriate to its audience.

The concepts are at an early prototype stage right now, and our investigations continue in order to test our hypothesis and refine the ideas we’ve built up. More new soon.