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Connection Through Positive Communication and Storytelling

Conversation cards specifically designed to improve communication with a loved one in any stage of dementia.

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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?

My idea is designed for both the patient and caregiver, as it provides prompts for new and interesting stories at times when conversation becomes difficult or one-sided. It offers caregivers suggestions on facilitating interesting and pleasant interactions, while relieving the patient from pressure to remember specific people or places.

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.

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

With input from qualified care professionals on storytelling prompts, this idea could be easily implemented and tested by caregivers in the community.

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

I have not developed the physical design of the cards, including size, shape, thickness of paper, lamination, color, font style and size, etc. I would need to research this part of the design to ensure that it is useful to patients and caregivers.

How long has your idea existed?

  • 0-3 months

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

My experience with dementia is limited to family interactions, but I have worked in design for the healthcare industry on an unrelated project.

This inspired (1)

The Compassion Box


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