Prerna (pronounced pray-r-nah) is a design project I undertook as part of a business model design competition at the University of Michigan named ‘Innovation in Action’. This is a University program where students from different disciplines come together to address society’s biggest problems and real-world challenges.
The prompt we chose: How might we better support family caregivers as they care for a loved one with Dementia?
Timeline: 5 months
More than 15 million Americans are Primary Caregivers for people living with Dementia. Primary caregivers undergo high levels of intense stress due to various factors, but the current health system fails to address this. So, caregivers are left to feel overwhelmed, overworked and lonely.
A mobile application for Dementia caregivers that serves as a care management and collaboration tool to reduce stress associated with caregiving.
Design Researcher, Interaction Designer
User Research (7 interviews)
Wire-framing and User Testing
We read reports from various sources to understand Dementia and the space of caregiving.
About 5 million people in the United States are living with Dementia and about 15 million people are caregiving for them.
Dementia Caregivers are found to provide 20-40 hours of unpaid care each week. This amounts to 18 Billion work hours lost every year.
Not only are they missing a portion of their income, they also spend more than $5,000 a year from their savings. This causes immense financial and emotional stress.
49% of Dementia caregivers are found to experience high levels of stress. This leads to 63% of them experiencing signs of depression, and also leaves their immune systems affected for the next three years.
USER INTERVIEWS AND OBSERVATIONS
We conducted 6 in-person interviews with key stakeholders (Dementia Caregivers, Medical Practitioners and Geriatric Specialists). The major issues identified through research were:
Fear of Seeking Help: Primary caregivers hesitated to reach out for help. A common reason was that it felt awkward to ask. Caregivers were not asking for help because they did not feel comfortable asking for it. Further, their families and friends wanted to help, but did not know how and when to offer help.
Lack of Appreciation: Caregivers felt nobody appreciated how much effort they put in. Most had been caregiving for years and over time, their social circles forgot to check up on them. Care providers echoed that primary caregivers had unmet needs which caused high stress. One of the practitioners mentioned that the medical system did not consider caregivers a priority, which is why most available solutions on the market focus on the person with Dementia and not the caregiver.
Lack of Support: Caregivers often felt a lack of support from their families. They expected a higher level of involvement and accountability from their families.
Lack of Communication: Family Dynamics and Communication issues added stress to the experience of caregiving. Each of these families were doing their absolute best to care for their loved one. But, somehow every one of them mentioned feeling guilty of not doing enough. This pattern emerged across multiple interviews.
We conducted a Competitive Analysis to identify gaps between what is available and user needs. We analyzed mobile apps like CaringBridge, CareZone, Balance and Life 360. From application reviews and exploration, we learnt that there is no one-stop application for Care Management. More importantly, we identified the opportunity to promote network engagement.
Prerna is a mobile application that enables Dementia caregivers to effectively seek help from their close network of friends and family without hesitation and receive the due appreciation for their effort. It also enables friends and family to offer help in real ways that relieves stress off of primary caregivers. Features include:
Journalling: This lets Caregivers reflect on their experiences and document memories. This would help them relieve stress and also lets their network see and appreciate their efforts.
Shared Calendar: The caregiver and their network share a common calendar. Caregivers can adds tasks to this calendar, which the network can then volunteer to help with. Automatic reminders prevent coordination issues and do not require the caregiver to be responsible for it.
Prompts & Reminders: Dementia caregiving often tends to be longer than 5 years. Users reported that their families and friends would initially be very proactive, but would later forget to check up on them and that it was embarrassing to seek out for help. Automatic prompts help keep the network engaged by sending out gentle reminders if they have stayed out of touch for long periods of time.
Observation Logs: Logs help family members document anything they might have observed when they spent time with the person with Dementia. Lack of information among family members was a common concern among our interviewees. This would help caregivers have more intentional conversations with medical professionals, especially when making crucial decisions like when to take away car keys from the person with Dementia.