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Inclusive Design At Work: Lovely Objects For People With Alzheimer’s

Kneading. Stirring. Pouring. These sculptural tools offer the familiar feeling–and comfort–of cooking.

For Alzheimer’s patients, it’s not just the memories of people and places that begin to leave. Eventually, people may also forget movements that once were intuitive, like shaking hands with someone or using a fork. After watching her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s progress to the point that she couldn’t remember how to use a salad spinner, the designer Aurore Brard  decided to create a series of objects that help people with the disease reengage with some of these intuitive motions again–and then asked people with Alzheimer’s to try out her designs.

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For her thesis project at Design Academy Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, called Moving Memories, Brard made five tools that correspond to a single movement integral to cooking–pouring, grinding, sprinkling, kneading, and stirring. A small ball with a bowl inside gives the sensation of pouring when you move it, while a wooden cylinder shaped like a pepper grinder has a mechanism in the middle that lets you twist it. A tool that almost looks like two coins reminds your hand how to sprinkle, a larger wooden ball can teach you how to stir when you twist it, and a squishy object prompts the hands to knead it. The idea? To offer comfort and stimulation through inclusive design–or design for every kind of person, not just the majority of people.

[Photo: courtesy Aurore Brard]
To test her creations, Brard took the prototypes to a local elderly care facility in Eindhoven to see how patients would respond. “For some people,  especially the ones who used to have very active, who worked with their hands a lot, this was really appealing,” she says. “They need to do something with their hands. It was really a good experience.”

[Photo: courtesy Aurore Brard]
Brard deliberately designed the objects so that there’s no absolute right way to use them. With the pepper grinder, for instance, one patient mimicked drinking from it, while another looked inside. The lack of judgment in her design gives the patients freedom to interact with the objects without being wrong. “It’s really important to stimulate them, to give them the opportunity to do something, and keep their mind active without stress,” Brard says.

She envisions the objects as a way for family members who don’t know how to spend time with their loved ones to interact in a positive way. By design, the objects aren’t infantilizing; they are all beautiful, simple pieces that wouldn’t look out of place in a home. Brard, who is presenting the project at Dutch Design Week, is hoping to talk to specialists about developing the project further while raising awareness about the disease.

About the author

Katharine Schwab is a contributing writer at Co.Design based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture.

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