With the number of people suffering from dementia expected to treble by 2050, designing solutions that can improve the livelihood and well being of PwDs whilst at home is key. Studies have shown that listening to music can be cognitively, emotionally, and socially beneficial for PwDs. TouchBox is an interactive music listening device that facilitates connection digitally and physically between loved ones, with the ultimate goal of helping PwDs remain longer at home.

With an increasing and ageing population, dementia has been cited as one of the fastest growing illnesses with numbers expected to triple to 135m by 2050. With no cure, governments and institutions are exploring how and where to best care for people. With the majority of People with Dementia (PwDs) requiring full time professional care at the later stages of the illness, prolonging this need and enabling PwDs to stay at home longer is both beneficial to the individual, and also the state. 

Our brief was to explore how we could enable young PwDs to remain at home longer. We explored different ways into the problem space, and were heavily influenced by Dr Arlene Astell’s work on design, technology and dementia. Her approach was to focus on the PwDs needs, and design solutions that would improve their lives socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically. 

In order to do this, we followed an iterative, research heavy design process. We included PwDs and dementia professionals along the journey in codesign sessions to ensure that we were continually asking the correct questions. 

A key challenge that many designers face is engaging with PwDs, understanding their real needs and giving them the space to actively feedback on concepts. This is due to the cognitive impairment that the illness causes, and results in many focusing more on the needs of the informal carers and healthcare institutions that are easier to communicate with. Through contacts of our clients, and through working with different professionals we attempted to learn how to run codesign sessions for and with PwDs. This was not an easy process, but one that ultimately led to core insights for our solution. 

Our research led us to tackle the design space through trying to create moments of joy and relief for PwDs. Research has shown that partaking in enjoyable activities that allow PwDs to feel like active members of society can have long term physical and mental benefits, and ultimately can help them stay at home longer. 

Music was a topic that continually was brought up during our research as an activity that PwDs can continue to enjoy. A main reason for this is the connection to emotional memories that songs have, allowing recall to one’s previous identity and life otherwise lost for many PwDs. 

Another issue that became apparent in our research was that of maintaining social connection. With many informal carers often being the partner, relationships can often become strained due to the level of care that is required. Building connections between loved ones who are physically present, or at a distance has been shown to reduce anxiety and improve overall well being. 

Our solution was to design a music listening device that would sit in the homes of a PwD. Songs could be sent to the device through Spotify (or other music streaming services) by loved ones, friends or the PwD. Once a new song was available, the act of two hands touching each other over the device would activate the playing of the song. This interaction of touching hands facilitated two individuals taking time out of their daily routine to sit down, listen to music together and share a moment of connection. Testing has shown positive results, moving forward a longer observational in-situ study would allow us further insight into how the product is used and the potential long term benefit to the PwD.

The full iterative design process could be found in my documentation of the Master Digital Design. Below you could see the difference from the first prototype to the final one.

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