ZuidZorg: Supporting Early-dementia Carers

What services are needed to support people living with dementia? STBY recently tackled this question together with Zuidzorg, a Dutch provider of extra-mural health care services who (amongst many other things) offer services targeted at at dementia sufferers who want to remain living in their own home.

Whether these people live alone or with their partner, they invariably depend heavily on people within their social circles to provide some (or indeed all) of the care they need. ZuidZorg provide additional care and support, and asked STBY to investigate how they could collaborate more with these personal carers, whether they be partners, children, or neighbours.

Over a number of projects we’ve built a long-term collaborative relationship with ZuidZorg, meaning that in this instance we could build on this previous work and approach the issue as a single, cohesive project team. We supported ZuidZorg in setting up interviews with carers; advised them on recruitment and script preparation; helped them analyse the material gathered and select those elements that would be useful in concepting workshops; and report the results from these workshop sessions after they had been completed.

Our collaboration continued after these first workshop sessions were completed. After an initial round of concepting, we organised a further co-creation workshop, working with the carers from the fieldwork in order to both validate and enrich the concepts which had been generate. This was followed by a final workshop in which these concepts were tested and prototyped.

This last session actually evolved – largely by happy accident – into an early version of one the services that had been developed. The idea centred upon a weekly local cafe which would be run by carers, thus providing both a place they could meet between themselves, as well as somewhere they could take the people they cared for. Over lunch during the workshop, the carers became so enthused with the concept that the workshop room became an early example of how the cafe would work in practice – a great example of how workshops have to be flexible, and adapt around the direction the discussions move in on the day.

The other prototypes were equally well-received, but still needed a little more work on their format. A service that used augmented clocks to support dementia suffers in keeping to their routines  – and updating carers as to whether these routines are being followed – was considered interesting, for example.  but we were told that clock-reading was one of the first skills you lose when starting to suffer from dementia. A great example then of how prototypes and concepts can be iteratively improved via the interactive involvement of the people they’re being designed for.

The next step in the project involves working with ZuidZorg to prepare some longer-term prototypes, which will examine how the proposed services would work for sufferers of dementia and their carers over longer-periods once installed in their environments.  It’s been a very rewarding process so far, not least because of the enduring partnerships we’ve created during this period of extended collaboration. Working with such committed and talented people on an issue that has a real impact on people’s lives is something we hope continues long into the future.