Create4Dementia – Reflection

Posted by Tom.

On 30th & 31st May I attended the Create4Dementia hackathon, held at the Hancock Museum, Newcastle. The task was to create provocative and interesting designs and prototypes to, among other objectives, help challenge commonly held beliefs towards dementia. Unlike many conventional hackathons, there were large numbers of people drawn from design and research, as well as development. Participants were able mix and mingle, meaning that some teams came together organically, with a diverse set of skills.  meant that people were mingling, figuring out peoples skills and teaming up left right and centre.

I found my way into a team with ex-LiSC member Sue Jamison-Powell, along with two researchers from OpenLab (previously Culture Lab) and a programmer from a Newcastle company. We were interested in raising awareness and provoking new and more considered appreciation of dementia and it’s lesser known affects. To this end, we developed Discombobulate – a series of web-based applications where users are asked to complete some everyday tasks.

In a nutshell, 48 hours after signing up, users are confused with some situational text messages (e.g. “Did you remember to switch the oven off?”, “The care worker is arriving at 11:30am, don’t forward X”) from a number which they do not recognised. After a few of these messages, they are told they have been cast into the role of 75-year-old Agnes, a person with dementia. They are directed towards a website to complete some daily tasks. Three tasks are presented: a shopping task, a navigation task and a cooking task. Each of these tasks explore one of the challenges a person with dementia suffers, such as short-term memory loss, language and planning difficulties. We implemented a prototype of the third task, of which a screenshot can be seen below. Users are asked to bake a cake, but as they scroll around the recipe, items on the ingredients list subtly change, along with the quantities and measures of some items. The more the user interacts with the recipe, the more incomprehensible it become – when they are unable to complete this task, it is explained this experience is similar to aphasia, which causes people with dementia difficulty interpreting and understanding language sometimes.

Discombobulator

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There were two programmers on our team (myself included), and the technical implementation was fun, especially interfacing with the SMS system (using Nexmo). The web-based application was developed using simple HTML, CSS and Javascript w/ jQuery. Hopefully we will continue the work with Discombobulator and craft it into a more complete package!

On reflection it was a fun weekend, and really nice to see meet a load of new researchers, developers and professionals, as well as learn some new technology. There were lots of really useful, provocative and well-considered designs presented through the weekend, with a panel of judges awarding prizes for things like best implementation and best design. I’d like to say a big thanks for Anja and the rest of the OpenLab people who worked really hard the whole weekend the make the event a success!

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