People in the later stages of dementia may experience restlessness and agitation. Sensory objects like clothing, blankets and handheld toys that can be touched and played with have been found to be helpful. They can provide comfort, relaxation, simple repetitive activity and an opportunity for communication and reminiscence.
We had received feedback that existing sensory products were too childlike, so we wanted to see if we could design a contemporary sensory product that was more age appropriate and “enjoyable to use without a challenge”.
Our Design Process
First of all, our team conducted semi-structured interviews with carers, care staff and professionals who identified that stigmatising design could challenge dignity for both users and carers.
The behaviours that were witnessed in older adults seeking sensory stimulation were described as: agitation, anxiety and hand actions. Their hand actions included folding and sorting and methodical actions.
During the observation sessions, the observed actions were:
- Handling an edge which included running fingers along the edges of clothing, paper, and furniture and feeling the edges of fingers, rings and clothing
- Holding which included holding hands, clothes and objects.
- Picking and pulling, most often of clothing.
- Arranging, stroking and rummaging or rustling.
We then hosted two interactive design workshops where an interactive design kit was created to make a visual representations of sensory cushions. This task was completed by 16 participants from our user network.
At the beginning of the project, we were expecting personalisation to come up as a common theme. Through discussion with our network, it became apparent by this stage that a template was the best solution, with an option to personalise when appropriate, so we proceeded to design and model template solutions.
Designability designers and therapists then used these requirements at an ideation session to create concept models to better understand the versatility, aesthetics and feasibility of each concept, as well as any potential restrictions. Further refinement and ranking of these concept designs led to the selection of two concepts for prototyping called ‘Bud’ and ‘Patch’.
We went on to develop the idea of Bud.
The Bud cushion has been designed to provide “occupation without a challenge” for people in the later stages of dementia when interest and interaction in activities may be brief and intermittent.
Holding or stroking, or doing repetitive movement, may provide some sensation of ‘doing’ with your hands and provide sensory comfort. For some, encouragement or physical help may be needed to initiate contact with the cushion.
This was described by a carer during our user trial.
“I decided to open it for her to explore. Again, she felt more textures and folded the petals over and occasionally changed the position of them.”
Personalising or theming the cushion with objects to discover can be helpful. An activity co-ordinator from a nursing home describes this:
“Shall we just sit and have a look? When you unfold it like this, it is - oh gosh, look at that – she loves the photographs on it. The photos link to stories that she will talk about - the colour of the outfit, details of that day. She likes to handle the necklace as she's talking. She likes to straighten the petals. The cushion has been useful for reminiscence. She puts everything back.”
Benefits and Features
- Suitable to use on the lap
- Soft and portable
- Able to be personalised by attaching meaningful objects
- Encourages communication, enjoyment or reminiscence
- Objects can be tucked among the fabric petals, tied or attached
- Can be themed to suit the individual, e.g. gardening, travel or art
- Folds closed into a discreet, attractive cushion
Personal items could be just about anything that is available and of interest to the person. For example: photographs, key rings, leaflets, pictures printed on paper, or excerpts cut out from magazines, serviettes to fold, small teddy bears etc.
Specifications and Guides
The Bud Sensory Cushion is supplied with a calico bag, carabiner and key-ring.
Size: approximately 30 x 30cm
- Drapes over lap
- Poppers to open and close
- Petals to re-arrange and fold
- Petals with an audible crinkle
- Stitching lines to trace
- Loops to use to attach objects