Friday 3 May 2013

Helping people living with dementia - through design

When starting research for this blog, I discovered that the Design Council had set up a challenge called Living well with Dementia Its aim, to make the lives of people affected by dementia easier, more secure and more enjoyable.
A good place to start? Well, not really, as only two of the ideas featured involve design in the true sense.


The buddiband is an idea from buddi, developers of a unique 24/7 personal alarm system. The buddiband will use technology similar to the existing buddi personal alarm, but in the form of a discreet wristband. It will utilse the latest mobile phone and satellite technology, it will feature an emergency alarm, automatic fall alert, location finder and connect to a 24/7 emergency monitoring centre. . In view of the recent "bad press" regarding the use of a similar system, supported in a small number of cases by Sussex Police - the development of such systems indicates the need for them.


Ode is a mains powered device that releases three different food fragrances a day, adjustable to coincide with meal time. It is recognised that weight loss is common, especially in late stage dementia - Ode is intended to help stimulate appetite among people with dementia.

The other ideas featured are:

Dementia Dog - assistance dogs helping people with dementia lead more fulfilled, independent and stress-free lives

Grouple – a private social online hub to help people share the responsibilities of a loved one Trading Times – a web-based service to match carers with local businesses for flexible paid work

What else is out there?

Day Clock for Digital Photo Frames
Of course at this point, it would be a little remiss of me not to mention my own little project. Creating a Day Clock using a Digital Photo Frame.

Yes, there is a commercially available Day Clock that works on the same principle, but many Digital Photo Frames can be simply adapted to create a day clock. And, I think my version looks better (then again, I would, wouldn't I?). I won't go any further into the details here, as all the information needed can be found  here.

At home

Many organisations and institutions have been looking into design for dementia, and a lot of it has been centred around Care Homes and Hospitals. However, many of the principles can be equally applied at home.


Cupboard doors create a block if they are solid, you can't see what is behind the closed door. Replacing them with glazed doors will enable the person to view what is inside, and be more likely to open them a take something out – especially food. Also consider a glass fronted fridge.


Flooring should ideally be the same colour throughout. Colour change can cause confusion, and even fear. I know when my Mother was still mobile, but progressively becoming less so, she became very agitated when moving from the Living Room and into the hall, because the two carpets were different colours. She felt she either had to step over something or step up. Yet the apartment is level access throughout.


Doors you want the person to use, should contrast with their surroundings, doors you don't want them to use, should be approximately the same colour as their surroundings. Contrasting doors are easy to see, same colour doors blend in.


Apart from making a bathroom more accessible, either through a walk-in bath or level access shower, other things can also make a difference. Toilet seats for example, should contrast with the surroundings, making them easy to see. Choose either a brightly coloured one, or a black one. Avoid patterned seats, as these will confuse even more. Remove as many toiletries as possible, leave only what the person needs for personal hygiene. Treat medicine cabinets as you would with children, ideally they should be lockable, and out of reach. Ideally, fixtures and fittings should contrast with wall colours.


If you're considering using signs to label rooms and items, consider the colours carefully. Black on yellow creates a strong visible contrast, both between the lettering on the sign, and the sign against its background. For rooms such as the toilet, consider using a pictorial image of the toilet, along with the word.

Visual or pictorial prompts can be used in a variety of situations, to help orientate and identify.

What sort of products are readily available?

We should look at what has been designed for children. Some of the products designed for children are also suitable for people with dementia. I have bought a number of products designed for children, for my mother. One of my favourites is the Tommee Tippee Easy Drink Beaker. It's a sip mug, that has a non-return anti spill valve. Mum has a habit of just placing a sip mug somewhere on her bed, regardless of whether it is the right way up or not. The Tommy Tipper sip mug doesn't leak. So its great for her to use, as no matter which way round she leaves it, it doesn't spill onto the bedclothes. At £3 in major supermarkets, it saves its weight in gold, as I don't have to keep changing bedding due to spillages.

Also available from one of the major supermarkets is a range of items, some quite cheap, that are also suitable for people with dementia.Such as a range of polypropylene picnic-ware, consisting of small bowls, small plates, small beakers and a set of knives, forks and spoons. Each set of six costs just £1, and are all brightly coloured in blue, green and deep pink, providing contrast between the container and the food. The size of the plates and bowls is ideal for less mobile patients, as the portions they can contain are just right for the amount of food intake needed.

The spoons, in particular, are of an ideal design, with a nicely curved handle, and a good sized end finial, helping the patient to hold the spoon correctly, and feed themselves without spilling too much. They are also ideal if you need to spoon feed, as they are similar in shape and design, to those used for babies and small children. The size of the spoon is somewhere between a teaspoon and a dessert spoon.

Project: To adapt a readily available container to aid eating

There are of course specially made eating and drinking aids, but these are often quite expensive, and are not suitable for everyone. My Mum spends a lot of time in bed, and eating from various containers using a spoon is often difficult - she tends to push food to the front of the bowl, and this then spills over. I am currently looking into how a readily available container can be adapted, in order to alleviate this problem. There'll be more on this subject in a future blog. If, of course, I find a solution.

Just a quick footnote to this project...

I have found another Tommee Tippee product that fits the bill, however, as it's designed for babies and young children, it is generally too small for adults, other than for breakfast cereals, small desserts and yoghurt.

Well that's it for now, there will be more in-depth blogs about various aspects of Design for Dementia soon.

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