The design challenge
How can I use the technology of the Internet of Things to help older people with starting dementia live independently longer with less help needed from others?
A special smartwatch that reminds older people with dementia about their daily tasks like closing windows, closing curtains, turning off the heater, turning off the lights, and many more. Watch the video below to see how my concept works.
About this project
In late 2018, I started with a six-week individual project called Applied Emerging Technologies were I applied the technology of the Internet of Things to help elderly with starting dementia live independently at home longer. I wanted to work on this design challenge because it relates to my own grandmother. She has a slight form of dementia and she sometimes forgets to perform actions she normally always does.
When defining the design challenge, I found out that there were three stakeholders involved in this case: the elderly themselves, the relatives of the elderly, and the healthcare staff. Because this project only lasted six weeks, I was unable to take all the requirements of all stakeholder into account. That's why for this project I focused on the most important one: the elderly themselves. The most important requirements they had were:
• The elderly want to live independently at home for as long as possible.
• The elderly do not want to become dependent on others.
• Elderly are often not very experience with technology. A solution has to be easy to use for them.
Observations and interviews
As part of the research, I did some observations and interviews. I prepared a couple of questions for someone working in the healthcare sector with the elderly. An important insight I got from this interview was that my solution should trigger recognition by the elderly. My solution should not automate the daily tasks of the elderly, but rather stimulate them in order to trigger the brains of the elderly. The interview showed that it was important to use photos of own things of the elderly. This generates recognition. A photo of a random curtain does not encourage the elderly to take action, but a photo of their own curtain probably does.
In addition to interviewing an expert I also visited my own grandmother with a slight form of dementia to observe her behavior. An important insight that I found was that my grandmother has a very fixed schedule. Her weekly program rarely changes. She maintains a tight rhythm throughout her day. She also wears an SOS button on her arm. She can press this button when she is in need of help. For example, when she falls and she can't stand up, she can press the SOS button which sets up a call with a relative and sends the GPS coordinates of her location via SMS.
This smartwatch reminds the elderly with early dementia to perform certain actions when they have forgotten to perform them. My grandmother always turns off the heater around 7 p.m. to save energy at night. She has recently forgotten this multiple times. My smartwatch reminds her at 7:30 pm that she has to switch off the heater. In this way, I encourage Grandma's brain to think about the action, with the possible consequence of automatically performing the action in the future without a reminder from the watch.
In every item that requires a certain action at a certain time, a sensor can be placed to check if the action has already been done. If it hasn't, the sensor can send a message to the smartwatch that can remind the user about performing that action.
As feedback during the design process, I was recommended that my concept had to blend into the environment. The product had to be ambient. I started looking at what products elderly already use and in which of them my concept can be integrated. In the end, I chose a watch. Many elderly already own a watch, so replacing it with one with a little more technology should not be such a radical change in theory. This smartwatch can of course still be used to read the time. In addition, watch faces can be personalized like on any smartwatch so that the new smartwatch can have the looks of an old watch.
The SOS button
My concept is based on the SOS button that my grandmother is already wearing around her arm. The SOS function on my watch can be activated by pressing the SOS button below the screen. In addition, it will also be activated automatically if a fall is detected or the heartbeat has an unexpected dip. This feature can be life-saving.
Due to the limited time of the project, I, unfortunately, did not get to do comprehensive user tests. If this concept is to be further developed, it is important that user tests are conducted in the near future. In this way, I can find out if my concept really has a positive influence on the lives of elderly people with an early stage of dementia and what has to be done to better align the concept with the target group.