I have two grandparents with Alzheimer’s and have watched the disease progress over the past decade. In the case of my grandfather, it began with confusion, getting lost and getting frustrated about it. He entered a care home after several years and was one of the healthiest patients. At this point, he is one of the most advanced: he is awake and alert for only 15 minutes or so at a time.
The disease is tragic and upsetting for everyone involved. The patient is confused and can become frustrated or sad, and their family can feel helpless and alone. In my view, one of the most difficult experiences for the caregiver is having their relationship and life together gradually forgotten.
In the early days, we kept a photo album in my grandpa’s room. He seemed to enjoy the familiarity and grounded-ness that looking at photos provided. We enjoyed sharing these memories and seeing him remember things and people. Over time, he has gradually forgotten everyone, including my grandmother. At this point, he wouldn’t think to look at a photo album or, perhaps, even understand what the photos mean.
That said, once and a while, he can surprise us. On my grandparent’s wedding anniversary, my grandma was telling him a story about their wedding day and he corrected her about the distance they drove to the wedding venue. My grandfather is also a musical person and, once in a while, he will sing.
My design proposal focuses on what patients with dementia do remember. This would help comfort the patient by providing familiarity, but also reassure and remind the caregiver that certain memories and certain traits are still there.
The design would involve a shadow-box display case to hang on the wall and a small notebook. The caregiver and the patient could work together to fill the shadow box with meaningful photos and mementos, and bond during this experience. The shadow box would also give the patient something to look at and think about, and might prompt them to talk about ideas or memories. While someone with dementia might not pick-up a book or a photo album, they might look at something on their wall. A patient with dementia might also lose a memento, so having them secured in the shadow box would make sure they are always available.
The design also involves a diary for the caregiver. This would be a place for them to write down their thoughts and feelings. They could also write down things that the patient has remembered or done that were meaningful to them.
This design could work for a patient at any stage of the disease and its contents could be changed over time. At the early stages of the disease, it could be filled with photos and later it could be filled with meaningful pictures and objects or known memory triggers.