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Stanford longevity design winner brings dementia place setting into production

eatwellprimaryHelping people live not just longer but better lives is the goal of Stanford's Center on Longevity, and last year it held a Design Challenge to scope out great ideas for doing so. The winner of that competition is no longer just a design; Eatwell is moving into production.

Eatwell, a place setting for those with cognitive and motor impairments from dementia, features subtle alterations to the colors, textures, weight, and shape of traditional dishes and cutlery. For example, bright colors make food more appetizing, and blue surfaces make it less likely that users will confuse their food with the dish. Slanted bottoms help keep food together and make it easier to scoop, and weighted bottoms with skid-resistant texture make spills less likely. There are even placemat attachments for a napkin to catch drips.

I recently corresponded with Eatwell's designer, Sha Yao, via email while she was in Asia overseeing the manufacturing of her innovative product. The 20 design features of the 9-piece set emerged from a four-year research process involving one-on-one observation and volunteering in adult day care centers. "Along the way," Yao told me, "I had many opportunities to come in contact with people who work with people with Alzheimer's. I did more than a hundred mock-ups and asked my target users to give me feedback."

Yao was surprised by the number of things caregivers have to be aware of. "Our loved ones may have visual impairment, and they may have depth perception problems with gripping things in front of them. Simple tasks can become difficult for them and I didn't even know that before I did research on it and watched them struggle to eat."

Although Yao has worked on a variety of products while completing her MFA in industrial design, this is the first project she developed from an idea to mass-production. Her impetus was a close connection with her grandmother, who took care of Yao and her sister as children while their parents worked.

"I miss her very much.  When she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, I felt frustrated (as do most caregivers) seeing her gradually become unable to take care of herself, but there was not much I could do to help. So I came up with this idea because I really wanted to make something to help."

And winning the Stanford Design Challenge? "It almost felt like winning a lottery to me, personally" she said.

She was effusively grateful for the exposure the competition provided. "Being able to win and present my work in front of over 200 people who are prominent and established in the senior industry is very encouraging... I truly believe that all the amazing opportunities – a successful crowd-funding campaign, the international media coverage and supporters, having a very established senior living community to be our pilot, even meeting the president of Taiwan, or being asked to join the selective Amazon Vendor Express program - were all possible because of the competition. It was truly a turning point for the Eatwell project."

The first round of the Eatwell place setting should be delivered to supporters in October.

Previously: Following the heart and the mind in biodesign, Stanford alumni aim to redesign the breast pump, Stanford Center of Longevity announces dementia-care design award winners, Medicine X Live to host hangout on design thinking for patient engagement and Designing behavior for better health
Photo courtesy of Eatwell

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