People living with early dementia can….

Over the last few months Memrica has been talking to people about the concept of a mobile memory aid, discussing how mobile technology could help people living with memory problems. Using these responses, we’ve been drawing up a list of what the app should offer  – often called a feature set or list – and then creating some initial designs to test whether people could make it do what they wanted it to. The process has been illuminating and we’ve met some amazing people.

Several things have struck us. If people don’t know what’s possible, they won’t discuss it, let alone ask for it. Henry Ford famously said, ‘If I’d asked what customers wanted they’d have said a faster horse’. Any good product designer will tell you that you shouldn’t ask what people want, you ask about what problems they’re facing. For example, many people use wall calendars and sticky notes to remind themselves about upcoming events and things to do. They also say that these can be misinterpreted; what does ‘Meet June 3pm Longley Gardens’ mean for example? Is it meet a lady called June at 3pm, or are you having a meeting in June? Sticky notes can also fall off and get lost. Many people rely on a partner to help them make sense of these notes and are aware it can become stressful for them to have to answer repeated questions about them.

However when you come to explore solutions, if something is outside their experience they may balk at the idea, however intuitively it may be put together. Showing a working example makes a huge difference – seeing really is believing! Giving people time to play with the app and explore it with the reassurance that they can’t break anything has shown us that if a person is familiar with how apps work, they’re instantly comfortable and happy to see what it can do, and then we get some great feedback. We’ve made quite a few design changes already and no doubt we’ll make more!

One of the most surprising findings is that some clinical and care staff have very low expectations of what a person living with early stage dementia can achieve. We’ve been faced with scorn; ‘You expect a 70 year old to be able to use a tablet? Ain’t gonna happen!’, puzzlement, ‘I don’t know anyone who lives with young dementia who uses Facebook’ as well as scepticism, ‘How will they remember to use the app?’ It seems obvious to us that each person is an individual and this isn’t going to be the right solution for everyone, but for people who are still using smartphones and tablets and just need a prompt to remember something, technology can really help them remain independent as long as possible. Equally, the more a user is rewarded with remembering something and feels good, the longer the memory of how to use the app should be embedded.

The sad thing about these questions is that, like when a teacher has low expectations of a pupil, they never supported to continue to stretch themselves. It appears people, even professionals working in the field, define dementia as ‘Can’t’ rather than ‘Can’. Our medical system is built around helping people who can’t do something return to the state when they can. In dementia, although at least one study has shown early decline in mice might be partially reversed through exercise http://www.dementiatoday.com/treadmill-running-reverses-cognitive-declines-in-alzheimers-disease-mouse-model/, it is a degenerative condition and so people. at the moment, can’t be returned to the optimum state when they ‘Can’. In addition, care professionals rarely see people at the pre or early stages of dementia because people either rarely come forward for diagnosis or the diagnosis takes so long that their condition has deteriorated. And even if they do, despite the current focus on living well with the disease, there’s so little to help they’re generally just given a follow up appointment and left to cope.

Memrica Prompt aims to change this helping people with any memory issue build their own personal reminder system so they focus on Can rather than Can’t.

We need your help to continue to test the technology. If you’re worried about your memory, or someone else’s, please get in touch and join our panel of testers. You don’t need a diagnosis of dementia to take part and you can also support someone else to explore the technology. Use the email icon at the top of the home page to say hello. Thank you and we look forward to hearing from you!