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Stanford Center on Longevity Sponsors Design Challenge

The Stanford Center on Longevity has just announced the winners in its first “MindDesign” Student Design Challenge. The competition’s theme was “Maximizing Independence for Those with Cognitive Impairment.” Students from around the globe were challenged to design new solutions to help individuals with cognitive impairment; e.g., dementia, be independent as long as possible. Projects could apply directly to the affected individual or to families and other caregivers who provide support. Implicit in the design challenge was the edict to look at ways older adults can better age in place.

A total of 52 teams submitted entries from over 30 universities and 15 different countries. And what innovative design themes they were! You can find a complete description here of the seven finalists, whose projects ranged from a game that teaches seniors how to use touch screen devices to a visual indicator for hot stove burners.

Stanford University announced its MindDesign winners at a day-long event last week, featuring keynote speakers on caregiving, Alzheimer’s medical advances, and other relevant topics. The seven finalist teams also gave presentations on their respective projects.

The first-place winner was Sha Yao with the Academy of Art, University of San Francisco. Her project, “EatWell,” was a re-design of traditional table settings, creating one more tailored to helping individuals with cognitive impairment eat without assistance. The seven-piece tableware set was designed with anti-slip bowls, curved spoons, and hunger-stimulating colors. Yao used her own experience caring for a grandmother with Alzheimer’s to shape her design vision.

One of the design competition’s judges vividly put the potential impact of this project into perspective. Juliet Holt Klinger, Vice President of Dementia Care at Brookdale Senior Living, told Yao: “I have 6,500 residents who eat three times a day. That’s over 19,000 times per day that your design could help people.”

The second-place winner was a team from the National University of Singapore, who created “Taste+,” a spoon that electrically stimulates taste buds to encourage better eating for older adults with a diminished sense of taste.

The third-place design prize was awarded to a team from the Copenhagen Institute of Design, for the development of “Memory Maps,” a system for individuals with early-stage cognitive decline. Memory Maps allows the individual and/or family members to record memories that are visually attached to real-world locations.

As impressed as we are with these top designers, we are equally impressed with the vision of Stanford’s Center on Longevity. The Center, comprised of three research divisions on Mind, Mobility, and Financial Security, studies human life span issues and looks for ways to use technology and science to improve the well-being of people, regardless of age, and to solve real-life problems of people over the age of 50.

Before selecting the topic for its inaugural student design challenge, the Center talked with industry leaders, academics, and investors to determine what types of solutions could have the most impact. They concluded that current care models for older adults with cognitive disabilities are lacking due to issues with consumer preference, caregiver shortages, and high costs of care. Some of the facts they cited:

  • Over 80% of older adults express the desire to age in place.

  • Only 3 million residential care beds are currently available, in contrast to 75.8 million aging baby boomers.

  • The number of people suffering from dementia is projected to double by 2050

The Stanford Center’s ultimate mission is “to redesign long life.” Amidst daunting statistics, it is leading the way in providing hope for a better quality of life for aging adults, regardless of disability.

To learn more about the Center and its MindDesign competition, visit its website, or check out a recent article on the PBS NewsHour site.

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