Designing for home care

challenges and investigations

My first day in Dorset — higher proportion of residents over the age of 65 in the UK.

The objective of this post is to open a dialogue with people who have the same interest in improving and developing new solutions for home care. I will be sharing in an informal way my process, some discoveries, and open questions I’m investigating.

If you are a designer, researcher, specialist, elderly who lives by yourself and needs extra support or a person who cares for someone with physical/mental challenges, let’s talk!


I never imagined working in design for healthcare. Since Nuno Almeida (co-founder of Nourish Care) contacted me about a UX design role, I could not stop thinking about the infinite possibilities of developing new systems, processes, products and services to increase wellbeing, to help reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and to help people with temporary or permanent health needs stay in their own homes.

This is Nuno Almeida and some ideas behind Nourish Care.

It was a completely new world for me. I was in the middle of my MA degree in Experience Design at Hyper Island, choosing the subject of my dissertation. To help in my decision I had a coaching session with Andy Young who has worked as a design consultant for supporting people with dementia, had a chat with Maggie Anderson who did a great research about the future of home care and attended inspiring talks from Dem Gerolemou (mental health|ustwo), Alastair Somerville (sensory design|SensoryUX), Rachel Kerr (asthma management in children|Helix) and Ivor Williams (end of life care|Helix).

I was hooked. A month later I started my research in partnership with Nourish Care about “how might we support people with high dependency to live healthier and longer in the comfort of their homes”. Yes, it is still a broad subject. There are many people involved in the “circle” around the person requiring care. This is my starting point.


The challenge

The world is getting older. The number of older people is growing faster than in any other age group. A combination of low birth rates and longer life expectation is driving the ageing process. This scenario forecasts reduced labour forces, lower investment rates, while expenditure in health tends to increase strongly.

Changes in our society also may raise the pressure on hospital admissions and primary care. Whilst in the past it was part of a cultural tradition that older people rely on family and friends to help out with everyday needs, from shopping and help around the house to a conversation. In an urban or nomadic context, these networks may be less reliable. So attention has turned to how support of this kind can be better provided, sometimes by paid professionals, sometimes by volunteers and sometimes through time banks and exchanges. How might we create better experiences to engage a networking of care?

“People helping themselves, one another and health services represents a set of new social movements for health: changing the basics of how the health system approaches the prevention and management of health, in particular long–term conditions.” The NHS in 2030, Nesta

How could digital technology help?

Emerging technologies are transforming the way people engage with their own health. Patients and carers are increasingly using mobile technology to research information online, share experiences, identify treatment options, rate providers and help to anticipate diagnoses.

Most of this solutions are focused in a younger population. Small buttons, fiddly controls, and unnecessarily complicated interfaces can all be barriers to older users. Certain fears regarding technology as expend a high amount of money with a low benefit return, breaking the equipment or doing something wrong, could also generate anxiety and frustration for the elderly audience.

The lack of solutions designed especially for elderly reveals a potential unexplored field to investigate. How digital technologies can bring scale to innovative projects that help older people overcome the constraints of location, mobility or lack of memory. How design could adopt a more holistic approach and explore a flexible ecosystem, integrating technology with elements that are already part of these people’s routine.

Map of existing solutions x basic human needs.

Some examples of companies working to build the confidence of older people and their carers in using digital tools to improve their quality of life:

Celebration of life

Nesta recently launched Dementia Citizens, a platform that brings together researchers and those affected by dementia to help find ways to improve care. They started with two new apps:

The Book Of You is designed to create a life story with someone with dementia. It’s a way to share happy memories with carers, friends and family. Stimulating memories, and help to maintain or increase a sense of identity.

Playlist For Life puts together a personal collection of music that has particular meaning for the person with dementia and their carer. Songs have an innate ability to take you right back to a particular time or place, as well as being uplifting and cheering. They can help to encourage communication and create a sense of closeness between listeners.

The idea is to gather information submitted through the apps and from questions and feedback sent to the users.

Tech facilitation

Breezie created a senior-friendly tablet solution in partnership with Samsung. Designed to promote practical and social well-being in ageing populations. With simplified versions of everyday services such as email, games, music or video calls.

The digital inclusion could mitigate the feeling of social isolation and the loneliness, what contributes to a better long-term mental and physical health.

Artificial intelligence and prospective memory

Nightingale is a speculative healthcare service created by Method. They have been experimenting with Artificial Intelligence, connected devices (IOT), as well exploring the value of data as a raw material for design. The result is a software platform to help improve the persistent challenges associated with treatment adherence.

Connected objects

The use of technology to monitor changes in patient’s health status outside of conventional clinical settings has increased the potential for remote monitoring through IoT, apps and wearables. On another hand, there is a big discussion about the balance between data analysis and privacy. What is the minimum information needed to provide a better assistance?

An interesting case of a non-intrusive solution is Howz. It is a mix of inputs from patient’s network of care and data collected from low-cost sensors. It tracks daily patterns on electrical, lights, heat and movement activities, and send alerts to the family when it spots anomalies. By tracking the use of everyday objects and points of contact it is possible to help a frail elderly, their personal networks, families, hospitals, social and other services stay connected through their daily routine.

Biosensors

Recent advances in the development of biosensing wearables are extending their capability to move beyond simply tracking activity. New entrants are able to monitor continuously a broad range of physiology (from posture to brain activity) and convert this information into outputs, through advanced connectivity and computing power.

GSK and Verily are examples of investors in bioelectronic medicine, a relatively new scientific field that aims to tackle a wide range of chronic diseases using miniaturised, implantable devices that can modify electrical signals that pass along nerves in the body, including irregular or altered impulses that occur in many illnesses. This new technology could impact the treatment of certain chronic conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and asthma.

Support to carers

The circle of care could be integrated by family, friends, volunteers, local community, professional carers… This process could significantly change relationships, putting both caregiver and loved ones in new contexts. Chronic or long-term conditions among care recipients seem to be particularly likely to cause emotional stress for caregivers.

It is a challenge to keep the balance personal life and the other person’s needs. Some companies are working to offer better information and advice from other people who faced the same situation. Unforgettable, for example, offers support to people with dementia and memory loss. New ways of connecting to professional carers, as Honor or HomeTouch can create new scenarios of mixing care support, alleviating the responsibility of a unique caregiver.

Honor

What is next?

More than technology and existent solutions, I’m really interested in going deeper about the home care routine, expectations, decision points, challenges, fears, motivations and achievements from different perspectives. Now it’s time of going to the field, listening, observing, investigating people’s story and real needs.

Are you a person who: lives by yourself and needs extra health support, cares for someone with physical/mental challenges, is also interested in this topic or has any recommendation?

I would love to hear from you!