1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of Dementia, per Alzheimer’s Association. Witnessing the process of mental deterioration can be tragic for seniors, family members, and caregivers.
Consequently, our team of student designers set out to design a web solution to help the families of those suffering from Alzheimer’s/ Dementia.
I worked with fellow designers Sara Hathaway, TJ Egbert, and Uliti Fangupo.
Our team followed the 5 Planes of User Experience popularized by Jesse James Garrett.
We defined the strategy and scope as a team, and then separated and designed the structure, skeleton, and surface individually.
Strategy — Defining the Who, What, and Why
Our prompt was pretty broad, so first we set out to answer a handful of important questions:
- Who will this product be for?
- What problem will we aim to solve?
- What are the dynamics of this problem?
A Facebook group called Memory People serves as a helpful resource for family members to share their struggles and ask for advice. I was admitted to the group and would read posts daily.
As I read about people’s tragedies caring for their loved ones, I was impressed with their patience and love. The posts helped us better understand what family members were going through. In becoming a part of this community we learned an important piece of terminology as well — Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients are referred to as loved ones.
We distributed a survey and conducted contextual interviews in order to understand the landscape better.
- The survey received 93 responses
- We interviewed 8 individuals, including professional caregivers, experts, and family members
The following responses illustrate the results of our research.
What is most difficult for you as you care for your loved one?
“Knowing that she is already gone.”
“Seeing a man struggle to recognize family.”
What do you enjoy about caring for your loved one?
“The ‘glimpses’ to his memory that he will have on occasion.”
“Hearing old stories that I’ve never heard before”
Does anything seem to improve the emotional state of your loved one?
“Talking to her about things she remembered.”
“Visits from family, telling old stories.”
“Life is really wonderful for us!”
One man we interviewed, Don, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s seven years ago. Upon first learning of the diagnoses, Don thought that his life was going to be awful.
However, Don shared that immediately after that thought passed through his mind, a second thought followed. He shared his story with us,
“I thought about my mom and my dad. I thought about my older brother. I thought about my wife. I was so grateful for them, and realized I didn’t deserve to be sad.
Since then, I wake up every day feeling great!”
Don explained that he and his family are closer than they’ve ever been. Don’s gratitude exemplified a principle that came through in our survey results as well — gratitude for cherished relationships is often the best medicine.
Alzheimer’s patients repeat phrases over and over again. One phrase that Don repeated as we talked, “life is really wonderful for us!”
Lessons from our research
- Watching a loved one deteriorate mentally is often the most painful struggle for family members
- In caring for their loved ones, people want a sense of normalcy
- Gratitude for cherished relationships is the best medicine
Tightening our focus
Our research proved that trying to help with medical issues would be beyond our scope of knowledge and better handled by medical professionals.
Consequently, we decided to focus on helping family members with the emotional difficulties associated with caring for someone with the disease.
Sandy — our caregiving champion
We created a persona named Sandy. Sandy cares for her mom who has Alzheimer’s, and she is struggling to deal with the emotional toll brought on by the disease.
Key insights into Sandy’s life
- Sandy wants to remember her mom as she was before the disease
- Sandy does not want to use her devices while she is caring for her mom but will use them sparingly when she is alone
- Sandy wants help creating valuable interactions with her mom
Defining the Scope
What tasks must Sandy accomplish to meet her goals?
User story mapping was helpful in developing solutions that would provide the emotional support Sandy needed.
However, we realized that we should have tightened the scope of our product more before discussing features. The product was shaping up to address too many jobs in Sandy’s life. We knew that we wanted to address emotional needs, but we had to define the best way to do it.
Getting to the heart of the problem
As our group split up and started working on individual designs, I felt like I wasn’t ready to begin wireframing. I still hadn’t found the heart of the problem.
I went over our data again, trying to figure out what the focus should be. I eventually had the epiphany (and it manifested itself as a fever dream in my notebook).
The user story was this: family members consume a story, which prompts memories and inspires gratitude for their loved one.
I then realized that there was a second component to the user story. Our family members received the most satisfaction when they did two things:
- Remembered their loved one “as they were”
- Learned new things about their loved one
Therefore, to provide lasting value to family members, my product had to turn the stories -> memories -> gratitude process into a cycle. For it to be truly helpful the user story needed to be:
Problem, meet solution
Once I had figured out the user story, I set out to design a site with the following features:
- Intuitive memory composition
- Straightforward memory storage and accessibility
- Simple memory sharing