Inspiration for creative design projects comes from all sorts of places, as industrial designer Sha Yao knows.
When her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, she – like many people – set out to educate herself about the condition. While volunteering at an assisted living facility for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, she noticed one thing that was a consistent problem for many patients: feeding themselves.
For many patients with dementia, eating can be a particularly labour-intensive task. It requires motor skills, coordination, and cognitive awareness – things that can be challenging for dementia sufferers.
Studies have shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia face unique challenges when it comes to feeding themselves(1). Until now, there has not been a standard set of silverware, flatware, and drinking implements that Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers can use to minimize these difficulties.
Designing For Alzheimer’s Patients
Sha Yao set out to create such a set – a complete tableware set including plates, bowls, cups, and silverware, all carefully designed to be easy for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to use.
Everything from the shape to the color was tailored with a specific function in mind.
Bowls, for example, are angled with 90-degree rims, allowing food to collect in one section of the bowl, for extra ease in scooping out the bowl’s contents. Spoons are perfectly contoured in order to align with the edges of the bowls, and have curved handles to allow for them to be manipulated with greater ease.
The set also features mugs with wide bases and flat handles to prevent them from tipping over. All of these dishes and silverware sit on a tray which is built with tabs in order to hold bibs or aprons.
Yao’s designs and campaign have been well-received, covered by a number of magazines and ultimately being awarded top prize at the 2014 Stanford Design Challenge.
Other Projects For Alzheimer’s Patients
Yao’s tableware designs are part of a new trend in young designers focusing their work on the needs of older individuals living with age-related disabilities. Some other projects in a similar vein include Taste+, a spoon which electrically stimulates taste buds to make food tastier for those with diminished taste sensation – something that many people with cognitive impairment experience.
Another project, Memory Maps, uses an RFID reader and GPS technology to let people with early-stage cognitive impairment record memories of places they’ve been on maps of their neighborhoods.
“Our goal was not to bring back what’s gone,” said Ritika Mathur, one of the researchers on the Memory Maps project, “but to find out what is still there and nourish and cherish that.”(3)