Launched in 2011, Living Well with Dementia was a Design Challenge run in partnership with the Department of Health to improve the lives of those affected by dementia. The aim was to design and develop products and services that rethink living with dementia and launch them as real initiatives.

The problem

In the case of cancer and cardiovascular disease, it’s about adding years to your life. In the case of dementia, it’s about adding life to your years.

Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and former Under Secretary-General of the UN

More than 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, with numbers expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. Dementia is a huge issue for the UK and the world. The cost in the UK to the NHS, local authorities and families is already around £23 billion per year and is set to rise to £27 billion by 2018. Globally the estimated costs are $604 billion – 1% of global GDP.

No figure, however, can reflect the human cost. Every aspect of the lives of people with dementia can be affected, and dementia can also be devastating for their carers. However, the loss is not immediate. People can live well and independently for quite some time after the condition’s onset.

This is where the challenge lies: to create products and services that can maximise quality of life for those affected and simultaneously reduce the burden and cost of care – precisely the kind of seemingly contradictory objectives that good designers are adept at resolving.

The insight

In the UK, the number of people aged 65+ will rise from 10.1 million to 16.7 million – a trend reflected in other developing countries around the world. We felt we could use the Design Challenge process to turn the rising costs associated with dementia in an ageing population into an opportunity for positive change and innovation.

We wanted to find better ways for those affected by dementia to live well in their homes and to improve their overall quality of life. We also wanted to reduce the need for expensive hospital care and alleviate the feelings of isolation and fear that often accompany diagnosis.

Our response

We launched a 12-month Design Challenge in partnership with the Department of Health, the aim being to design and develop products and services that rethink living with dementia and launch them as real initiatives. 

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at Design Council, explains, "With a challenge as complex as supporting people living with dementia, we needed an open brief that would draw in diverse ideas from a wide range of innovators." 

Our brief pointed out three areas of opportunity regarding people with dementia and their carers:

1. How might we make their lives easier?

2. How might we help them prepare so as to maintain quality of life and deal with crises?

3. How might we enable them to make the most of life?

The results

We were truly inspired by the diversity and strength of ideas to help support people living with dementia.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer, Design Council

The challenge in numbers:

  • Over 2,000 application form downloads
  • 154 entries
  • 2 shortlisting stages
  • 5 winning teams
  • £360,000 R&D funding

Five innovative solutions were selected to be developed. The winning teams included designers, entrepreneurs and service providers, as well as experts in nutrition, dog training and olfaction.

Buddi – an attractive wristband personal alarm that can send alerts from anywhere to Buddi’s support services.

Dementia Dog – assistance dogs that help people with dementia lead more fulfilled, independent and stress-free lives.

Ode – a fragrance-release system designed to stimulate appetite among people with dementia.

Grouple – a secure, private online social hub helping people share the responsibilities of caring for a loved one.

Trading Times – an online service that matches carers and older adults with local businesses for flexible paid work.

The five solutions all focus on and around the point of diagnosis, aiming to be preventative measures that improve quality of life in the early stages of dementia for the increasing numbers of people diagnosed. They demonstrate the vast potential of innovative ideas in an underserved market and show how design can play a key role in confronting a major social challenge.

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