Sensory design for dementia care : 3 stories

Jakob, A., Manchester, H. and Treadaway, C. (2017) Sensory design for dementia care : 3 stories. In: Dementia Lab 2017 : stories from design and research; 06 - 07 Sep 2017, Dortmund, Germany.


The three stories told here represent results of three research projects investigating design for dementia care and its impact. Each of these individual projects (‘Tangible Memories’, ‘Sensor e-Textile’/LAUGH, ‘Multi-Sensory Environments in dementia care’) has been led by one of the three authors and received funding from the Arts & Humanity Research Council (AHRC) in UK. With “Experimenting with sound” sociologist Helen Manchester reports on the impact of the ‘immersive sound’ rocking chair created together with experience designer Heidi Hinder and computer scientist Peter Bennett. The chair provides the experience of nature for people living with dementia who might find it difficult to go outside. Its design emerged from the ‘Tangible Memories’ research project ( The project has been working on co-designing a set of new digital tools and explores how tangible technologies might be developed in a co-design process to enhance democratic community building and to engage residents in care homes in multi-sensory experiences. In “Bill and Elaine’s story”, designer Cathy Treadaway shares her experience of co-designing a sensory blanket for a person living with advanced dementia who was chair/bed bound, almost blind and without verbal communication, and his carer. The blanket, developed together with textile designer Helen Watkins and computer scientist Stephen Lindsay, is one of the outcomes from the ‘Sensor e-Textile’ project completed in 2016 which is now informing current LAUGH design research ( Within the later the research team is developing a number of playful objects that stimulate, engage, soothe and give pleasure to people living with the advanced stages of the disease. Methodologies involved include co-design and participatory Compassionate Design approaches. “Paradise room” is a story about a care practitioner working in a care home in London which participated in research investigating the design and use of ‘Sensory Rooms’ - also called ‘Multi-Sensory Environment’ (MSE) – in dementia care. Designer Anke Jakob, together with occupational therapist Lesley Collier, explored how the performance and success of such spaces can be improved through design interventions to the benefit of care home residents, especially people in late stages of dementia, their relatives and care givers ( Based on the outcomes of the project’s ethnographic study which included observations of environments and facilities on offer in 16 care homes and semi-structured conversation with care staff, the research team developed initial design guide lines on best practice regarding multi-sensory engagement of residents and sensory enriched spaces that meet the specific needs and preferences of people living with dementia, their families and the care homes they live in.

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