Those of you familiar with software development will know that most development today captures “requirements” using a technique called “User stories”. Each feature of the product is described using a standard structure which goes “As a <some kind of user> I want <description of something> because <benefit>”. In the course of developing Kraydel I have been struck by how much of the functionality has literally been driven by “user stories” – and by that I mean hearing someone tell us a story about the plight of an elderly person and feeling a physical pang of distress followed by the thought “we can do something about that”.
My wife is a pharmacist, and works a lot with care homes and the elderly. She told me about an occasion where she was explaining a medication blister pack to an elderly woman. As you probably know, these are cardboard sheets with 7×4 clear plastic bubbles containing medication. Each of the 7 rows corresponds to a day of the week, and each of the 4 columns is a time of day. So my wife was explaining how easy this made things – you just pop the bubble for the day and time and take the pills. The idea is, of course, that these packs make medication easy and stress-free for the elderly but in this case the woman looked very worried and unhappy. My wife couldn’t understand why she seemed upset, but then the woman asked “but… how will I know what day it is?” I find that heartbreaking and I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it’s related to the idea that an elderly person can become so unrooted in time that individual days are indistinguishable and meaningless. Kraydel can help with this problem by including the date and time in the reminders that we play and display. We would like to go further and work with manufacturers of the blister packs to add clear icons (colours/shapes) which we can include in our reminder display to make it even easier to see which medication is now due.
My own mother anchors herself in time with weekly bridge games, and favourite TV programmes, but I can see how she loses track when she’s not well enough to get out to play bridge, and during the long stretches of the year when there’s nothing in the TV schedules she cares for. Which means that reminders for simple things like “pay the milkman”, ” tomorrow is bin day -put out the blue bin” can be really helpful. (for non-UK/Ireland readers, for bin substitute “garbage” or “trash”, and blue is usually the bin reserved for recyclables)
One of my friends told me a story about his father, who has dementia. His father knew he had a 3pm Dentist appointment but happened to wake up in the early morning, before 3am, and got up and dressed and went out into the dark knowing that he needed to be somewhere at 3 o’clock. That it was dark, didn’t alert him to the fact that it was the “wrong” 3 o’clock. Fortunately someone found him wondering and brought him home. He made me aware that someone had come up with the idea of a “dementia clock” which displays the time in simple but unambiguous terms e.g. as text saying “Morning”, “Mid-day”, “Night-time” and perhaps with helpful corresponding graphics of the sun or moon.
We’re going to use these ideas in Kraydel – both on the device itself (through the addition of an OLED panel) and on the TV UI. We’ll display the day of the week and the “time” of day displayed in big friendly letters. We want to do everything we can take to take fear and confusion out of the lives of the elderly.
Last story: I heard this one at a conference last week. A speaker from a charity told the story of an elderly man who send himself letters so that that the postman would come to his house and he could feel, however briefly, a sense of being connected to the outside world. I don’t believe anyone reading this blog can hear that story and not be moved almost to tears. We’re caring and clever people all of us, there are things we can do – wonderful charities staffed by volunteers who make daily phone calls to those living alone and try to make them feel valued. With Kraydel we can add video, a human face, to that interaction, and remove the cost of the phone call. So much more to do. You can help us by telling us your stories.