Design for Dementia: The student designers attempting to solve some of the challenges of dementia care

Written by Active Minds on Tuesday the 11th of March 2014.


Design for Dementia: The student designers who are attempting to solve some of the challenges of dementia care

Illustration of a head with an illuminated lightbulb and newly sprouting plant to symbolise growing ideas

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”   — Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO


“Maximising Independence for those with cognitive impairment” is the title of a design challenge which was set by Stanford Center on Longevity in collaboration with Aging 2.0 at the end of last year.

The challenge started with asking a community made up of professional caregivers and family members

1)   What are your biggest challenges related to maximising independence of someone with cognitive impairment?


2)   Are there any products or services that you wish existed to help maximise independence for someone with cognitive impairment?

And the community then submitted their suggestions for the elements of care they wish they had help with.

The research from the community found that the needs of the carers centred on trying to maintain a safe environment.

Systems to provide reminders were the most frequently suggested followed by suggestions for training and for combatting loneliness and maintaining engagement.

Graduate and undergraduate students around the world were then asked to design products and services that would keep individuals with cognitive impairment independent for as long as possible. And many of the students who registered said that it was their grandparents that had inspired them.

The idea for the design challenge came about when Stanford, in conversation with Aging 2.0, asked, “Where is the area where you see the most opportunity?”

And “Almost uniformly,” Ken Smith (Director of Mobility at Stanford) said “one of the biggest issues is the expected number of people who are going to have cognitive issues and the dilemma of how to care for them.”

Two hundred people registered for their design challenge event in September 2013, including researchers, carers, and entrepreneurs.

Stanford and Aging 2.0 received submissions from 52 teams in 31 universities across 15 countries and judging was conducted by a team of 12 experts from academia, industry, and cognition-related non-profits.

At the start of this year, 7 student Design Challenge finalists were chosen:

·      Eatwell

By Sha Yao from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s inspired her final design – a seven-piece tableware set specifically designed for people with the disease. The goal of her project was help users eat better and maintain their dignity while helping to alleviate some of the burdens of their carers.

You can see more of her beautiful design and the full design manual for the project, here (it makes for very fascinating reading).

A photo of Shao Yao's Eatwell tableware set designed for people with Alzheimer's

Image: Sha Yao

Image source: Next Avenue


·      Memory Maps

By Ritika Mathur at the Copenhagen Institute of Design. Ritika’s design allows someone with early stage dementia (and his/ her family) to record memories and then coordinate them to a map with the real-world locations of where they took place. She said her goal was “not just to bring back what’s gone, but to find out what is still there and nourish and cherish that.”


·      Taste +

By Huabin Kok at Singapore National University. Habin’s design is a spoon, which has built-in electrics that provide various stimulations to make food tastier if the user has a diminished sense of taste. The user taps the spoon to deliver certain flavours such as sour or salt, which provides a healthier alternative to adding lots of salt or flavouring to a meal.


·      Caresolver

By Arick Morton at Harvard University. Arick’s entry is designed for “lay” carers. It is a cloud-based mobile phone application, which tracks and monitors carer and care-recipient wellness and delivers alerts, notifications and clinically validated interventions when appropriate. The platform also connects the users to online support groups, forums and mentors.


·      Confage

By Ani Abgaryan San Francisco State University. Ani designed a gaming experience, which shows people with limited memory and motoring functions the main gestures needed to use touchscreen devices. Her design was inspired by experiences trying to teach her grandmother how to read or write text messages on her mobile phone.


·      ThermoRing

By Keyvan Mojtahedzadeh at San Francisco State University. Keyvan designed a plastic ring, which gets placed around an electric stove burner that warns people the burner is on from turning black to red.


·      Automated Home Activity Monitoring

By Guido Pusiol at Stanford University. Guido’s computer system operates through cameras which learn its user’s living behaviour patters and then sends an alert to their carer which any abnormal activity occurs – such as a fall.


Each of the finalists received $1,000 and mentorship from the corporate sponsors involved in the challenge to help the students to refine their design ideas. And, on April 10th this year a Design Challenge winner will be picked and are set to receive a further $10,000 with runners-up receiving $5,000 and $2,000.

Director of Stanford Center of Longevity, Dr. Laura Carstensen said, “While some of these designs may become products, the most important result of the challenge might be that we are engaging a whole new generation of designers to address the issues around longevity and aging.”

A photo of students listening to an older man sat in a garden

Image: Tyler Olsen/ Shutterstock