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Communication barriers raise relationship struggles. Our design invites new ways of connecting by fostering moments of better understanding.

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Who is your idea designed for and how does it better support family caregivers as they care for a loved one with dementia?

Dementia changes significantly how a person experiences the world. Our first instinct in reaction to this might be to try to hold on to how things were before. However, trying to limit or adding constraints to these changes can create more difficulties for all the people affected by the disease. Our design intervention is an invitation to explore how a person with dementia and their family members can connect on different levels, that would allow the emergence of moments of better understanding.

Our design intervention intends to facilitate an elevated sense comfort within families where a member is experiencing dementia. Dementia progresses slowly and necessitates the person that has it to readjust to new behaviors and ways of being over time, unfortunately family support systems are not always equipped to navigate, accept and face the new family dynamics.


How might we make families feel some sense of relief and increased comfort when they face difficult moments, particularly related to misaligned communication?


Leave a message design intervention.

We were inspired by phones. Phones represent (1) connecting with others and sharing experiences; additionally, (2) it is a familiar object, especially to the older generation of people who may be affected with dementia (this ensures that the artifact does not feel foreign to the dementia patient and their loved ones); finally, (3) it can leverage, receive and hold emotional response. 


How does it work?


We are taking inspiration from different phone features from phones made in the 30’s onwards. Our design intends to tweak and redefine these features, giving them another set of applications or purposes. Each of the reimagined phone design features suggest a way to construct a narrative between the person with dementia and their support system.

We are grounding our design in a model that creates a balance between literal communication tactics and poetic communication tactics (please refer to the diagram attached). Where it is possible the design facilitates the literal communication more likely found in lucid moments, but also facilitates non-literal (poetic) communication for non-lucid moments. A part of our reimagined phone would allow the user to record voice or written mementos, and other parts would allow for sensorial mementos or codes such as smells, color, sounds, textures and even taste as a new form of communication or interaction. The experience of the artifact allows dementia patients and their loved ones to connect and communicate in a non judgemental way, employing the diverse range of features above where needed. The reimagined phone allows users to communicate directly as well as allowing for stories, thoughts, messages, and feelings to be collected, transmitted and treasured. 

The artifact emphasizes the technique of thinking by doing as a means of helping people focus. Our design intervention invites people to interact with the reimagined phone in ways that allow them to focus on the ‘now’. Sometimes people that experience dementia are hit with dislocating trains of thought, or experience going into a loop of a specific narrative and get lost, confused or frustrated. As a consequence, the support system many times does not know how to connect or be part of these moments, and in some occasions pull away because they don’t find a comfortable way to engage.


This re-appropriation and design of a phone-apparatus would be something that can always be available in the household, adapt to the emotional needs of both patient and caregiver and allow them to communicate in different modes depending on the stage of the illness.

As an overarching question, our design asks: How might we design for new expressions and sense making in moments where what is happening in the real, public, external world does not easily match with the imaginary, individual, internal world?

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

A few weeks ago, our team attended a conference called ‘Opening Up About Alzheimer’s: a conversation with Geri and James Taylor’, who are nationally noted Alzheimer’s activists. Since then we have meet with them privately and invited them to collaborate with us once we had a more formulated project idea. On the other hand, we would like to reconnect with The New School’s Institute for Retired Professionals (IRP), since we know some of participants are alzheimer non-clinical caregivers who ha

What skills, input, or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

We envision that having a collaboration with the OpenIDEO community and co-designing together through creative sessions, would be a great learning experience to combine methods, spaces and perspectives. Including these insights of collaboration will definitely helps us reshape our project, fostering a safe non judgemental space for patients and caregivers and start to breakdown the stigma around the illness.

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • A student collaboration

Tell us about your work experience:

We are 3 students at the MFA Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons that has a service/system design approach emphasizing on collaborative design-led research within social innovation. We are in a ‘Designing for End of Life’ class addressing tensions on difficult conversations about dying.


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