AUTONOMOUS: Co-designing for Dementia



In the sphere of innovation and technology development, the approach of co-design holds a pivotal role, particularly when it comes to creating solutions that are inclusive and accessible for users with specific needs. A perfect example of this approach in action is the co-design sessions implemented recently in Italy, as part of the project AUTONOMOUS.

Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS (FhP-AICOS) led two co-design sessions, with a total of 15 participants. This initiative aimed to engage directly with people with dementia (PwD) and their family members to refine and enhance a smartwatch prototype designed to improve the lives of those living with dementia. The participants were recruited with the assistance of two different dementia organizations based in Italy, namely OIC and Associazione Veneto Malattia di Alzheimer e Demenze degenerative (A.V.M.A.D.) Both organizations, although are not direct partners of the project, provided crucial support. The sessions took place in the premises of these organizations, where dedicated spaces facilitated the activities, with formal caregivers on hand to provide support as needed.

“Each session consisted of a series of small playful activities to be executed together with a person with dementia (PwD) and one of her/his own family members”, explains Filippo Talami, researcher at the Human-Centred Design group at FhP-AICOS and responsible for implementing the two co-desing sessions. Filippo also added that “the aim of each session was to discover how users would normally interact with the developed prototype.”

“We expect to collect data regarding common preferences and ease of use (if any) on the type of watch straps, preference on different User Interfaces (UIs) and visual stimuli, preference on sound and vibration stimuli. Each session was also useful to uncover some hidden needs and necessities of PwD related to the use of smartwatches and our technology.”, underlines the researcher.

Activities ranged from selecting a favorite piece of cloth as an icebreaker to choosing preferred watch straps from a diverse collection, evaluating their ease of wear, and assessing various UIs for cognitive load and usability. The sessions also explored preferences for different voice tones and the tone of text displayed on the smartwatch, providing comprehensive insights into user preferences and usability considerations.

What are the next steps, one may ask? Filippo enlightens us: “Based on the data collected we can continue the development of our prototype and iteratively testing each new version of the solution. We expect to continue with a series of usability tests that will take place in the partners' premises and, if possible, in participants' homes. For now, we don't expect new co-design sessions with PwD and caregivers, however we are starting co-design activities with formal caregivers and healthcare professionals in Portugal.

Reflecting on the overall experience, Filippo Talami highlighted “Co-designing with PwD and their family members presented a significant challenge. Moderating the sessions effectively while addressing participants' unique difficulties proved to be quite demanding as traditional co-design techniques and activities that we implement often fell short of our expectations, requiring us to adapt and evaluate each session individually. Despite these obstacles, we managed to gather valuable insights that will inform the next phase of the project. Furthermore, the knowledge gained from these sessions together with the know-how shared by our partners will be surely valuable for AICOS' future success on similar projects.

AUTONOMOUS consists of an AI-system that can be integrated into existing technologies, such as smartwatches, to support people living with dementia to perform activities of daily living and prolong independent living at home. This solution by Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS, Carnegie Mellon University, and LUCA School of Arts was selected as one of the semi-finalists discovery award winners by the Longitude Prize on Dementia.