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Toolkits 21st September 2016

Designing for home care

By Sarag

This post is by Mabel Lazzarin a User Experience (UX) designer from Nourish who focuses on developing the technology we use for use in social care and home care settings. It was originally posted on Medium and we thought it would be good to share it with you here, as she is helping to shape the way that we evolve our design system for home care.

Challenges and investigations

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 these solutions are focused on a younger population. Small buttons, fiddly controls,and unnecessarily complicated interfaces can all be barriers to older users. Certain fears regarding technology due to expenditure of a large 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 people 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.

Mind map of existing solutions vs basic human needs

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 feelings of social isolation and the loneliness, which contribute to 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 as 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 patients’ health status outside of conventional clinical settings has increased the potential for remote monitoring through IoT, apps and wearables. However 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.


Recent advances in the development of bio-sensing wearables are extending their capability to move beyond simply tracking activity. New products 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  balance a personal life and a person’s needs. Some companies are working to offer better information and advice from those who have 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.



What is next?

More than technology and existent solutions, it is important to go deeper about the home care routine, expectations, decision points, challenges, fears, motivations and achievements from different perspectives. At Nourish we are exploring new ideas for a better home care assistance through research: listening, observing, investigating people’s story and real needs.
If you want to be part of this journey. We would love to hear from you!

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