£360,000 moneypot offered to designers who come up with innovative solutions to improve quality of life for dementia sufferers

DESIGNERS, charities, MedTech companies, large manufacturing groups, engineers, architects and entrepreneurs are being challenged to come up with innovative new products and environments that will help make life easier for the millions of people in the UK who suffer from dementia.

In a joint project launched by the Design Council and the Department of Health, a moneypot of £360,000, plus unprecedented access to expert support and advice, is up for grabs to any individual or organisation with a good idea. Selected teams will be given funding to develop their innovations into working prototypes and organisers will ensure there is a pipeline for successful ideas to be spread and sustained across the NHS and social care sector. There will also be help to find investors willing to provide funding and expertise to take ideas from the design table to the marketplace.

Call for entries

The call for entries explains: " Recent research shows that British people are now more scared of developing dementia in later life than of developing cancer. Yet, unlike cancer sufferers, the huge number of people with dementia, and their carers, have only a handful of products and services to support them. Considering that 21 million of us know someone with the condition, this is scarcely believable.

"This is not only a significant challenge to the UK as a whole, but a significant opportunity to be society's next great success story."

It adds: "The Design Council and the Department of Health are aiming to help fund the development of the next generation of solutions for people with dementia and their carers. Given the changing demographics and the ageing population, this is an exciting opportunity to get involved in developing ideas within a new market, which designers and others may not have previously thought about.

"We want you to rethink life with dementia. We're challenging you to create products, services and other solutions that help people affected by dementia live easier and more enjoyable lives, and to prepare for the future. This is not just about having nice ideas; the aim is to fund projects that will have a real, beneficial effect."

The challenge is open to as wide a range of participants as possible, as well as open to what type of solution they will develop, whether it is hardware, software, product, service, architecture, or all of these. At the same time, organisers are asking entrants to concentrate on where there is the greatest unmet need and the most opportunity.

The challenge

The call for entries lays out three areas for special consideration, which were suggested during an extensive study. They are:

  • Solutions that make things easier: These need to address how to make the day-to-day lives of dementia sufferers and their carers easier. For example, people with dementia may have issues with sight, hearing or physical mobility and are often forgetful. The call for entries states: "Teams should consider how solutions not only help people achieve tasks, but also reduce the stress and confusion that memory loss creates. Wouldn't it be great if people with dementia could better manage their money, if carers didn't have to look after their pets because they forget to feed them, if carers could have a long bath without having to worry, if people could do their weekly shopping without getting lost or confused, or if people with dementia cook a meal safely and easily?"
  • Preparing for the future: Exploring how solutions might help people prepare for what lies ahead, enabling them to maintain quality of life and meet crises head on. The document gives a number of typical crises often faced by patients and their carers, including tripping over while walking round the house, a carer feeling so worn down they feel unable to carry on, a person with dementia being unable to find their way to the toilet, and a person leaving their home and forgetting how to get back. It states: " Through early and effective preparation, the right support and assistive technology can be put in place to prevent crises happening. By doing this we can preserve a person's identity, help them stay in control and maintain the pride and dignity of all involved. We want to see products and services developed that make planning for a future with dementia better by making it a simple and common thing to do."
  • Making life more enjoyable: The challenge aims to find products and services that give people with dementia and their carers the experiences that help them enjoy life. The call for entries states: " The cost of everyday dementia care can place a huge financial burden on a person and their family. Teams should consider how they can make special experiences accessible to people who might have tight cash constraints. They should consider how they could give carers a break without unsettling the person they care for and focus on how they support a person with dementia or their carer to achieve their individual goals, as well as how people with dementia and their families can make the most of their time together."

As well as meeting these challenges, potential entrants to the challenge are also being urged to consider the following points:

  • Remember carers: Carers, who are usually a person's close family, are at the heart of dementia care, so supporting them supports the sufferer and helps prevent crises. Teams should consider how their ideas help carers live well and what part they play in any solution
  • Needs change as dementia progresses: Dementia is progressive and symptoms become increasingly severe over time, with each type of dementia exhibiting different behaviours. Teams are asked to think about how their solutions can be adapted over time and how the transition between different care settings can be improved
  • Dementia affects all sufferers differently: Different types of dementia affect people in various ways and equally people will experience the same type of dementia differently. As a result everyone will have their own individual needs, tastes and preferences. Teams should consider how solutions can be adaptable and personalisable and, where possible, help those affected maintain their individuality
  • Background and culture is important: The background of a person with dementia can significantly affect their experience of the condition. For example, people with other conditions such as blindness will find the impact these have on their life made greater by dementia. Equally, people from black and ethnic minority communities may face specific challenges such as loss of their knowledge of English. While some proposals may specifically target this issue, even those that don't will need to consider their relevance to minority ethnic groups

Launching the initiative, Care Services Minister, Paul Burstow said: "Dementia is one of the biggest challenges we face as the population ages. It currently affects 750,000 people in the UK and that number is set to double over the next 30years.

"To make sure we continue to improve health outcomes and manage the growing costs associated with this, we need to think smart and do things differently. If diagnosed early and given the right support people with dementia can continue to live well for a number of years. By engaging with businesses and the third sector I hope we will stimulate some creative thinking about how best to help people with dementia get the most out of their lives, rather than just focusing on symptoms."

Opportunities

David Kester, chief executive of the Design Council, added: "This is an exciting opportunity for designers, businesses and communities to work on a project that will make such a difference to people's lives. We can see the stats around the issue, but the reality of it is that dementia is something that will, and does, affect every family in Britain. Previous challenges have shown the impact design plays in addressing difficult social and health issues and I think teams will once again drive the innovation curve."

Previously, the Design Council and the Department of Health have joined forces in similar challenges looking at redesigning equipment to reduce the spread of healthcare associated infections, improving privacy and dignity in hospitals, and using design to reduce violence and aggression in A and E departments.

Jeremy Hughes, the Alzheimer's Society's chief executive, said of the latest initiative: "We need to see dramatic innovation in all areas of dementia care. Throwing down the gauntlet to such a wide range of experts has the potential to be the catalyst for real change - small or large - which could help transform the lives of the 750,000 people living with dementia in the UK. Dementia can affect anyone. However, with a timely diagnosis and the right help and support people can live well with the condition."

The closing date for entries is 30 September, with final teams to be announced on 14 November. The resulting prototypes will be showcased in March next year.

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