44 million people were estimated to be living with dementia in 2013. That is expected to rise to 75 million by 2030.
This year the World Health Organization launched the Conference on Global Action Against Dementia. Director general Margaret Chan has voiced a “desperate need for a global action plan to tackle the condition”^1.
The UK government has spoken of the growing numbers of people diagnosed with dementia as a health challenge “as big as that posed by cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDs”^1.
What Is Living with Dementia Like?
Some see dementia as a “destructive...violation” of the people we love and look up to. It's been called a “slow motion death” and poignantly “the longest goodbye”^2.
"Who are we when we no longer have our memories? At what moment do we die?"
Dementia can feel like our sense of self – our memories, personalities, humour, everything that makes us unique and human – is slowly pulled away. The Observer's Nicci Gerrard asks “who are we when we no longer have our memories? At what moment do we die?”^2
There is a clear need for raised awareness and better support for those living with dementia. Designers in particular have the potential to improve the lives of those diagnosed.
The King's Fund's Enhancing the Healing Environment project observed that those with dementia staying in acute care wards generally stay longer than other patients. They discovered that, by making relatively simple changes to the environment – clearer signage and wayfinding, minimising visual clutter and contrasting colours, they improved the experience for inpatients and could even reduce the time of their stay.
So how can Studio Mashbo help?
Last year we submitted an app idea to the LJMU Open Labs North West Digital Health Challenge. The idea for the “Memory Jigsaw” app was so well received we were successful in being chosen to attend the Digital Health Days Conference in Stockholm.
Encouraged that we had something special on our hands, we dedicated a hack day to the app idea. This was a day we were able to – as a focused studio – conduct some initial research, market assessment and interface experiments.
Taking an agile approach to the project, we have more recently planned in five stages that will eventually lead to our final vision.
Research, Planning and Sketching
We're excited to be working with Mersey Care NHS Trust, who are supporting us in order to complete the first stage of the project. This involves in-depth research, user workshops, user testing and a working prototype.
We sketch out the interface wireframes to get a feel for the experience of playing the Memory Jigsaw and navigating the various screens:
This is then formalised and drawn up in interactive prototyping software:
“It's crucial to use language that doesn't cast those with dementia into the role of victim: they are not “sufferers”; those who care for them are not simply their carers but remain their spouses, their children, their friends. Dementia is not a monolithic condition, a simple sentence of doom, and people with it are not 'bed blockers'; they are human and they are precious.”^2
It was important to us to try and empathise with those living with dementia. A greater level of understanding helps us when interacting in workshops and when planning and designing.
Rather than trying “to pull people with dementia into your world, you have to enter theirs”^3.
This is our attempt to enter their world.
In order to test our idea we presented it at a Mersey Care NHS Trust memory group in Garston, Liverpool. Here we hosted discussions around dementia and were treated to the stories of those living with dementia – those with the condition as well as their spouses, family and friends.
We were able to ascertain that puzzles were currently enjoyed by those with the dementia and were given an insight into the specific types of puzzles that were stimulating.
Using a variety of physical jigsaws, early wireframe designs shown on paper and interactive versions on tablets we were given an idea of the differing abilities of attendees in completing jigsaws of varying difficulty.
The tea and biscuits complemented the fascinating, life-affirming characters. Were were given a great insight into the lives, habits and abilities of those living with dementia. Importantly we received useful feedback to our app idea.
The next stage is to create a fully working prototype of the app for use on tablet devices...