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Personalizing Dementia as Mass Consumption Activities

How can product design make a slow, debilitating illness, easier for the sufferers and caretakers?

Photo of Michael Molay
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

I've had grandparents suffer from many forms of dementia over the years. And seeing this degenerative disease take its toll on sufferers first hand. From doing the most basic of tasks, such as eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom, it's difficult to cope with seeing your loved ones fade away, losing "who they are" in the process. While there is no cure, how do you objectify the days that count, the days when your loved one has their head together? How do you make that moment count?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and their projections, 5.3 million Americans currently suffer with Alzheimer's Disease (the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.) ; with a rising population (i.e. Baby Boomers), diagnoses by 2050 are expected to double.

My first experience with dementia was with my grandfather, who lived from 1915-2003. He suffered from dementia--and later Alzheimer's Disease--at least 20 years before his death. In his final days, he was in a nursing home at a retirement tower. Experiencing the latter days of his illness, it was difficult for me as a child to relate to him because I didn't know how to talk to him.

My other grandfather currently suffers from dementia.  As an adult, obviously I have a better understanding of the disease than from a child's perspective.  

As a son, how will I relate to my parents if or when they suffer from dementia?  As a human, how will I experience dementia if I am diagnosed?  And as a product designer, how can you make a system of products that includes everyone, regardless of age or mental capacity?

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

What I enjoy about product research is talking to those who would use it. In this case, I'd talk to nurses, my family, friends, activity coordinators, specialists, those with dementia, or with whomever else comes along.

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

Let's see what happens!

Tell us about your work experience:

I recently graduated from Auburn University, and majored in Industrial Design. In my last semester, my senior thesis project was dealt in a healthcare studio, related to developing solutions based on reducing rising costs in the American healthcare system. Feel free to contact me!

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Photo of Marije Haas

Hi Michael, thanks for your contribution. It is good to see a dementia post amongst all the other ways we can die. I see an overwhelming response about preserving memories, which is exactly what makes dementia so hard. Memories fade and become utterly meaningless for the patient. In fact reminding them of memories lost is a source of depressing and sadness. How can you miss something that you don't know? All there is is the now. How can be make every 'now' meaningful and worth being in? Can moment be meaningful even, if they are lost minutes later?

I hope you can put your talents to use and help dementia and alzheimer patients as well as their carers.

Photo of Michael Molay


Thank you for the response and the kind words.  When I began this project in my last semester of school (Fall 2015), what you're saying was the basis for finding an answer to such questions.

These were the questions when working with this project:  How do you make any moment count to occupy the patients' remaining time?  How do you interact with someone with mild dementia when having a conversation is difficult?  How does an object (or a series of objects) link these concerns?