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Summary

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. Lifestyle changes start small, but grow to have severe impacts:

“Disruptions can have a spiraling effect: forgetting to eat, drink, sleep or take medication can increase disorientation, create confusion and heightened anxiety about the outside world” - Alzheimer’s Association (UK)

To stop the spiral of negative consequences of dementia on the person and caretakers, physiological level needs (sleeping, eating, ect) must be satisfied.

Disrupted persons with Dementia lose touch with their circadian Rhythms, putting stress on their host families to consider institutionalization. The Alzheimer’s Association (UK) indicates that sleep deprivation is the #1 cause of institutionalization. By 2030, they estimate the total cost of institutional care (government + families) will approach 2 trillion USD worldwide.

Our Prompt

How could a product restore normal circadian rhythms of persons with Dementia so they may remain in the care of their families and not be prematurely moved to costly institutions?

Roles

Hardware Interface Design: led prototyping and testing efforts on the physical interface of the product through an evidence-based, iterative process.

Client-facing Communications: coordinated meetings with industry stakeholders and the design/research team. Presented for team at major checkpoints.

My teammates:

  • Jacco Bleyan: took on the bulk of Arduino prototyping, with special attention given to creating fully functional prototypes to test. He’s awesome.

  • Kevin Chiam: an industrial design powerhouse that iteratively modeled the products and perfected their 3D printed housings.

Industry Partners

While not necessary to the project’s requirements, the team sought out industry stakeholders from relevant expertise in order to build a product with better real-world value. We are incredibly grateful to our parters:

Philips Healthcare: both the marketing and healthcare research teams supported and guided the development of Senso’s industrial design decisions.

2M Engineering: provided innovative and hyper-accurate sleep sensors that became the central hub for the other products to be controlled from.

SimTigrate Design Lab: offered expertise in designing for dementia and bringing a product to market

Vitalis Caretakers: provided a trusted source of persons with dementia willing to test, and caretakers willing to discuss their years of insights.

 

Ideation & Stakeholder Engagement


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The team understood the general contours of the problem space after poring over research related to Dementia and its drastic effects on sleep. Rapid, gestural, concept generation led to a diverse range of ideas seeking to solve the problem of instilling circadian rhythms back into persons with Dementia. To separate the wheat from the chaff, concepts were brought experts in marketing, psychology, design, and technology.

 
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Experts visited included the following:

  • Vitalis Caretakers | The team visited Vitalis, a local institution for the elderly, where caretakers sat around a table and sorted through the concepts. They selected based on their experience in caring for person’s with Dementia, and chose concepts that were simple in both controls and appearance. Takeaway: devices for persons with dementia must not confuse or disorient , but be obvious and bold when signaling purpose and interaction.

  • Philips Marketers | They were drawn towards products that could be marketed towards the family rather than the institution or individual. Takeaway: there is untapped market potential in selling to families who are caretakers for loved-ones with dementia. This is the largest population of potential buyers, and should be the focus.

  • 2M Engineers | 2M was a leading sensor technology firm that the team about the potential of smart products: Takeaway: utilize ‘smart’ products to take cognitive burden off the user.

  • SimTigrate Design Lab | SimTigrate is one of the world’s leading design groups focusing on evidence-based processes for creating clinics, especially for special populations.

Takeaway: devices for persons with dementia must not confuse or disorient , but be obvious and bold when signaling purpose and interaction.


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Breakthrough

After the expert critiques, the team reconvened and began sketching based on newly defined parameters of success. Out of the new batch of sketches, this one (left) emerged as a keystone for a product family.

The main problem when designing for persons with Dementia, is creating systems with too many error opportunities that may frustrate or discourage the user (who is burdened with varying levels of forgetfulness). Instead, the team decided to focus on one-touch interactions embodied within familiar forms that afforded simple functions of use.

…focus on one-touch interactions embodied within familiar forms that afforded simple functions of use.


Rapid Prototyping


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Next, the team rapidly prototyped foam models that embodied the best qualities of the sketches, each addressing a different sensory approach. The prototypes were then brought to users at Vitalis, the local care institution, where they were tested to better understand usability from the perspective of individuals with dementia. The key insight was that every product’s controls must be constrained to a single action in order to forgive the forgetful nature of the users.

The key insight was that every product’s controls must be constrained to a single action in order to forgive the forgetful nature of the users.

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As the team approached the end of the development cycle, great effort went into build fully-functional prototypes for the sake of validation through future testing. Arduino kits were utilized and used to build fully-functional prototypes through an iterative process of trial and error until the intended product functionality was approximated. The host University and 2M engineering were invested in the project’s development, and requested that the it be left in a “fully testable state” for later use.

Arduino kits were utilized and used to build fully-functional prototypes through an iterative process of trial and error until the intended product functionality was approximated.

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The end-point of this project was a fully-functional set of prototypes intended for further testing and development, which is now being carried out by graduate students at the Industrial Design department at the Technical University of Eindhoven. The final prints were made with a high-resolution resin, and fitted with Arduino kits.


Value Proposition


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These smart-home products seek to mitigate the disruptive effects of Dementia on sleep patterns by re-affirming a normal pattern through stimulating and regulating senses with the strongest effect on circadian cycles: smell, sight, and hearing.


Recognition


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Senso has made a few impacts since it was created in 2016. Namely, the following:

  • Richard John Livingston Martin Humanitarian Design Award, Georgia Tech, Honorable Mention

  • Dutch Design Week 2016, Technical University of Eindhoven, Featured Product

  • Illuminating Engineering Society, 2018 Annual Conference Presenter


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