My design proposal focuses on improving the communication between the caregiver and the person with dementia. One of the most difficult things about caring for someone with dementia is the unpredictable, sometimes daily change in cognitive ability. My grandmother found her memory loss embarrassing, and began to withdraw from social interactions to avoid making mistakes. She would become frustrated with questions she couldn’t answer, and sometimes found “do you remember this?” inquiries upsetting. On particularly challenging days, asking her questions would only serve to make her angry at her caregivers. During times when she had more difficulty with memory, she found it easier to listen to stories about people and things in the world around her. Listening to interesting stories about topics unrelated to her allowed her to relax and enjoy the moment. These stories took the pressure off, as they did not require her to remember specific people or places from her past.
While storytelling is not difficult, sometimes it is challenging to think of new and engaging stories to tell, especially if you are caring for the same person every day. My design idea is a simple deck of conversational cards from which the person with dementia or caregiver can choose. These cards prompt the caregiver to tell a simple story or engage in a conversation that does not require any recall, and for which there are no wrong answers. Some examples of prompts on the cards may include:
- What would it be like to be invisible? Where would you go? What would you do?
- If you could fly like a bird, where would you travel to? Talk about a trip that you would take.
The design of the cards would be simple and inexpensive. Rather than using an application on a smartphone, the cards would be kept in a small box and would allow the person with dementia to physically choose a card from the deck themselves. In addition to the conversation prompt on each card, there would be some tips for effective communication serving as reminders to the caregiver. The cards would be color coded by topic, to add visual interest as well as the ability to sort. The cards would also serve as a physical reminder that new stories and easy conversations can continue whenever the patient wishes, just by selecting a card.
My idea is a simple, compact and inexpensive way for a caregiver to improve their relationship with the patient, while keeping some level of communication open. By providing the caregiver easy prompts to talk with their loved one about interesting topics, communication can be improved significantly, even if the patient is unable to participate verbally.