Eindhoven University of Technology: Rens Brankaert designs ‘warm technology’ for people with dementia

Rens Brankaert, associate professor at Industrial Design, designs ‘warm technology’ for elderly people with dementia. Alzheimer Nederland, the organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people with dementia and their carer, is so impressed with his work that the researcher has been nominated for the Young Outstanding Researcher Award. Voting is still open until April 16.

The combination of technology and dementia has been Brankaert’s field even since he graduated. In 2015 he gained his doctorate at Industrial Design for work that involved designing the Welthuis Compass, a simple navigation system for people with dementia.

Designing with people with dementia in mind, says Brankaert, gives rise to ‘warm technology’. “This is user-friendly and not stigmatizing.” Equally important is the environment around the end user, especially in healthcare. “Because you are dealing with family members, nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, the product’s maker, the list goes on,” says Brankaert.

Another good example of ‘warm technology’ is Living Moments, a device for converting almost automatically digital messages into a printed card, sound and images.

“Living Moments has a printer that produces a paper postcard carrying a message and photo. The user can then insert this into the system in order to hear and see extra information. The person with dementia then has the option of giving a response very simply, in the form of a smiley or a spoken message.”

“What’s particularly nice is that this really does increase the person’s number of contact moments and it seems we can demonstrate that participants in the current study still have the ability to learn to operate the device.” Living moments, which Brankaert designed together with doctoral student Myrte Thoolen will be entered in the TU/e Contest.

Alzheimer Nederland started out as an organization that sought to tackle the disease. Today, increasingly, it also recognizes the necessity of using technology to support the growing group of people with dementia. Developments are needed right now. The broadening of focus from fundamental research for the long term to include applied research encompassing areas like technology, quick to apply to make life more pleasant, has slowly but surely been achieved.

The idea now is to collaborate with Alzheimer Nederland to expand the TU/e expertise center for dementia & technology. This would become the seventh recognized center in the Netherlands and the only focusing on technology. Brankaert is working towards its launch in the summer.

It is great to win a hundred thousand euros, but the money won’t last long. Brankaert has plenty of plans for it. “I want to develop a prototype series of the Welthuis Compass, so that it can become the subject of further research. What’s more, I hope this will enable us to increase the target group’s involvement with the new expertise center. We already have our eye on a community center in the Oud-Strijp neighborhood. Working with the senior’s association KBO Brabant, we hope to build community involvement.”