DFF Dementia Workshop

Designing for the Future is a competition run by The Future Perfect Company in conjunction with the University of Brighton. This year I have been working with DFF to support the network’s growth and development. The competition encourages young designers to consider the challenges of ageing by creating a product that would solve a problem the older generation face. This year the focus is smart tech and dementia.

On 16th February we held a Dementia workshop with the students. This involved two experts coming in to share their knowledge and experience to help the students get a better idea of what it is like to have dementia and the challenges that come with the disease.

To kick off, Sharon, a Dementia Champion gave a talk and went through some exercises with the group. If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend becoming a Dementia Friend. You can attend a session in your local area or do it online – it is super easy!

Some facts about Dementia:
– Dementia is not a natural part of ageing
– There are over 100 types of dementia
– Dementia is caused by diseases in the brain
– Dementia is progressive
– 1 in 14 over 65’s are living with dementia

My favourite activity that Sharon did with the group involved 3 volunteers who were each given a brief description of an individual. Sharon read out tasks and asked if they thought “their person” would be able to do it. They each gave different answers. At the end it was revealed that they all had the same person description, yet they had each came to different conclusions as to the individual’s capabilities. The point of the activity was to highlight that dementia affects everyone slightly differently and you must assess everyone individually.

Dementia Friend tips for communicating with people with dementia:

  • Be understanding
  • Limit the distractions in your environment.
  • Slow your voice down and think about body language.
  • Visual aids can be helpful
  • Never speak down to someone with dementia
  • Patience is key

Sharon went on to speak about how design and public spaces have an impact on people with dementia. For example, some Boots stores have big black mats outside their entrances. For people with dementia, this can look like a big hole in the floor- which is very frightening! The retailer has now been approached remove these.

Our second speaker was Fran Hamilton, an occupational therapist from the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals. She opened our eyes to the types of dementia and the differing symptoms. Fran explained that often people will come into the hospital and deteriorate. She also told us that a minimum of 25% of people in the hospital have dementia and around 70% of people in care homes have dementia. There figures highlight the importance of raising awareness of dementia and how to make the lives of people with dementia easier. Ensuring that individuals with dementia can live independent and fulfilled lives for as long as possible.

What is affected by dementia?

  • Day to day memory
  • Concentration, planning and organisational skills
  • Language
  • Visual perception – colour and contrast
  • Orientation
  • Learning
  • Age related changes – reduced ability to adapt to these changes

Fran explained that simple things can make a huge difference. For example, one of her clients kept falling over so she was brought in to assess what was happening. Fran found that the client’s room had a beige carpet and a beige chair. Her client could not distinguish between the two, as people with dementia often need contrasting colours to help with their visual perception. Fran placed a bright red blanket on the chair and this solved the problem!

Both of our experts highlighted the importance of seeing people with dementia as individuals and getting the balance right between safety and independence. The Designing for the Future students really enjoyed the session. Following the speakers, our students mapped dementia through design using post it notes and began coming up with their product design ideas for people with dementia. Design plays an key role in accessibility and inclusion.

It was really positive to have open discussions about dementia and learn about how society can help improve the lives of those with the disease.

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