Designers receive funding to develop dementia aids

Five groups chosen as part of government-led challenge to develop devices to improve patients' lives

Living Well With Dementia challenged teams of designers to come up with innovations that will help to improve the lives of people with dementia

A wristband monitor and personal alarm, an online support tool for carers, and a scent-releasing device designed to stimulate the appetite are among five innovative projects that have received funding as part of a drive to improve the lives of people with dementia.

The projects have been chosen as part of the Living Well With Dementia programme, organised by the Department of Health and the Design Council.

They were chosen from a number of entries following the launch of a competition aimed at bringing together designers, innovators, service providers and health experts to develop products and services that will change the way dementia care is delivered by making life easier and more enjoyable for sufferers.

If designers took an hour out of their day and thought ‘what can I do to make that person’s life better’, I am sure some amazing ideas would come out of it

The successful ideas will now be fast-tracked in the hopes of making them available to the estimated 750,000 dementia sufferers in the UK. This figure is expected to rocket to more than 1.7 million by 2051 as the population ages.

In total, five projects have been chosen for the next stage. They are:

  • A service that explores the potential of using trained dogs to help sufferers maintain independence, dignity, companionship and overall quality of life. It is the brainchild of Alzheimer Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled and Glasgow School of Art
  • A permanent wristband that provides user identification, personal monitoring and an emergency alert via 3D accelerometers and RFID to enhance the current buddi telecare system. This was developed by Buddi and Sebastian Conran Associates
  • A web and mobile-based service for carers to find part-time work. Developed by CREO Strategic Solutions, A+B Studio, FLY Design and FeedHenry, the service will enable carers to supplement their income and protect their savings while staying in the workplace
  • The Ode scent clock. This device will use aromatherapy to increase the likelihood of eating and reduce weight loss, dehydration, fatigue and malnutrition in people with dementia. It has been developed by Rodd Design, The Olfactory Experience, the Gwen Coleman and Crossmodal Research Lab and the University of Oxford
  • Grouple, a tool that will enable the families of people with dementia to support the patient through easier and more accessible communication. Applicable from the point of diagnosis, it will provide online and physical tools to aid co-ordinated support. It has been developed by Studiohead, BT Innovate & Design, Louise Wilson, Ifung Lu, Meike Walcha and Jewish Care

The concepts are being unveiled next week as part of a series of exhibitions and talks. The events aim to help move the pilot forward and encourage widespread adoption of the tools and equipment

The challenge follows earlier competitions exploring patient dignity and infection control.

Celebrity designer, Wayne Hemingway MBE, who is a supporter of the challenge, said: “If designers took an hour out of their day and thought ‘what can I do to make that person’s life better’, I am sure some amazing ideas would come out of it.

It’s about designers coming up with the ways and means of making the lives of people with dementia better, simpler and more enjoyable

Living Well with Dementia to me means less unhappiness. Sometimes you can’t tell how unhappy a person with dementia is, but healthcare workers will tell you that you can often tell when they are happy.

“It has taken us a long time to understand how serious dementia is and the cost of is tremendous to families and to the NHS and to the people who have got it in terms of their quality of life.

“There are all sorts of people who can help, not just doctors, not just health workers. It’s about designers coming up with the ways and means of making the lives of people with dementia better, simpler and more enjoyable.”

David Kester, chief executive of the Design Council, added: “These challenges have tackled real problems and developed real solutions. Products have gone on to make sales, companies have grown and, more importantly, underlying problems, whether they be infection control, patient dignity and now dementia, have now got new solutions and new innovations.”

Currently, it is estimated that around £8.2billion is spent every year on health and social care services for people with dementia.

Through earlier projects we have benefited in a big way. We have got involved with new territories, we have also got involved with things that will make a big change to healthcare

Professor Alistair Burns, the Department of Health’s national clinical director for dementia, said: “That’s an awful lot of money and there are ways of using it in a more innovative way.

“One of the great fears people have when they are diagnosed with dementia is losing their independence. It’s important to give a positive message that people can live well with dementia. They are still the same people, although the diagnosis does change their lives.”

It is hoped that by bringing teams of designers together with manufacturers and healthcare professionals, the solutions will address actual needs and improve the quality of life of people with dementia.

Luke Pearson or PearsonLloyd has been involved in two earlier design challenges and said of the process: “What drew us to these projects is that it was a new environment for us in terms of healthcare and ethically it was very worthy, but from a design perspective it was also very challenging.

“Through earlier projects we have benefited in a big way. We have got involved with new territories, we have also got involved with things that will make a big change to healthcare.

Living Well With Dementia is about prolonging the person’s sense of dignity, removing the sense of isolation and fear, and facilitating their environment so they have to change as little as possible

Living Well With Dementia is about prolonging the person’s sense of dignity, removing the sense of isolation and fear, and facilitating their environment so they have to change as little as possible.”

The challenge has been welcomed by the Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia sufferer and charity ambassador, Graham Browne, said: “Dementia is like electricity; it’s there, but you can’t see it. You see on the telly old people sitting in a nursing home drinking cups of tea and eating rich tea biscuits and dribbling. It’s not like that. People with dementia have a life and you have got to give them that life.

“We don’t want to be in respite care, we want to be at home with our family. Living your own life is so important.”

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