Design for Dementia

Written for Kinneir Dufort: http://www.kinneirdufort.com/blog/rising-challenge

Today some colleagues and I are beginning a new design project unlike any other we’ve done before. We’ve been inspired by the Design Council’s ‘Living Well With Dementia’ programme, which challenges UK designers to help those struggling to cope with a dementia-related illness, by designing practical and insightful tools that assist with everyday living.

We’re taking it upon ourselves to discover the opportunities for design to help, create ideas and develop the best into affordable, practical products that people can get real benefit from. We’ll be enlisting the help of people with dementia, carers and medical professionals to help us reach our goal.

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe the symptoms that occour when the brain is affected by a number of conditions, most commonly Alzheimer’s. Symptoms of dementia include loss of memory, mood changes and communication problems. Things will gradually detereorate over time and people diagnosed with dementia will eventually begin to have trouble managing everyday life, remembering and making sense of things you and I take for granted. Naturally, this is very distressing and upsetting for both them and their families.

In the UK, there are around 800,000 people living with this condition. 1 in 14 people over 65, and 1 in 6 over 80 years of age has a form of dementia. It also affects younger people, with 17,000 people under 65 living in the UK having been diagnosed. Unfortunately it’s still a condition we don’t fully understand, and there is no cure. Over time, people with dementia will find they need more and more support from those around them to cope with everyday life.

The goal of the ‘Living Well With Dementia’ programme is to offer products that help people who’ve been diagnosed to stay independent and in control of their lives for longer.  It’s our hope that this project can make a positive contribution to lives by providing a product that’s simple, insightful and helps people to help themselves. To get this right, we’re not starting with technologies or product ideas, but instead by meeting people.  Our approach will be to first gain a good, real-life understanding of what it’s like to live with dementia so our design efforts will be focused and informed. We’ll be conducting ethnographic research, which means we’ll be spending time with volunteers in their homes, learning and observing first-hand how they live and how they go about daily tasks like grocery shopping. Both our researchers and industrial designers will be visiting volunteers together and looking for opportunities for design to help.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting regular updates on the KD ‘Design for Dementia’ project and the way we work. I’m looking forward to sharing progress with you all.