Sep 14, 2020

Design students help to make London suburb dementia friendly

During this year’s European summer, a cohort of engineering students from around the world participated in TEDI’s Summer School 2020. Their project? Developing new solutions to make Canada Water, an area of south-east London, a dementia friendly community.

What is TEDI?

TEDI, based in London, is an innovative new program of engineering higher education. Its motto is ‘transforming engineering education: transforming lives’ and nowhere is that better encapsulated than in their 2020 Summer School program, focusing on dementia friendly community solutions.

TEDI-London has been developed in partnership with King’s College London, University of New South Wales and Arizona State University. The curriculum at TEDI takes an interdisciplinary approach, including elements of traditional engineering alongside digital, design, and business skills.

This approach served students well as they tackled the multi-faceted challenge of creating a dementia friendly community – what TEDI calls ‘one of the greatest global challenges of the 21st Century’. In the Summer School program, students applied complex theory to real-world challenges, as they thought about how to create a truly user-centric space.

Julie Truong is an engineering student from Sydney who participated in the program. ‘I am passionate about helping people and hope to make an impact on the world by improving the quality of life for others with the help of my degree,’ Miss Truong says. ‘I was drawn to the TEDI-London Summer School because it aimed to do exactly this, helping better the lives of people with dementia.’

The Summer School Program

The 147 students from 21 countries were split into groups to each pursue their own solutions. Working remotely due to 2020 travel restrictions, the students interacted with industry, NGOs, local governments and academics to broaden their understanding of the issues involved. 25 industry experts delivered masterclasses, while academic mentors provided guidance to each group.

At the beginning of the program, all students completed Dementia Friends training. An initiative of Dementia Australia, the Dementia Friends program is designed to help people learn more about dementia, the challenges faced by people living with dementia, and how to help people living with dementia remain connected. Nicole Pereira, a student from the UK, comments that ‘we looked at real, living and breathing human beings with their own unique understanding of their world because of a condition that affects everyone differently but has just one word to describe it – Dementia.’

The students’ projects focused on three categories: 

  • Outdoor: create a dementia friendly outdoor space where people living with dementia and their carers can interact safely.
  • Indoor: Develop solutions to enhance the wellbeing and independence of people inside buildings.
  • AI and Big Data: Harness technology to enhance the safety and support for people living with dementia and their carers.

Sofia Colaço, a student from Portugal, reflects that her group’s project was centred on accessibility, mobility and inclusion. ‘We’re trying to get people [living] with dementia out of their homes and trying to come up with a solution that will promote socialisation, promote mobility and accessibility to all these different spaces,’ she says. ‘Most importantly, we want people to feel safe and feel comfortable. We want to think about the whole community and make something that will connect all of these different places.’

Another group focused on the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence. ‘I think AI has opened up such a huge possibility to bring more creative, innovative and bold solutions for the future,’ Malaysian student Eunice Lim says. ‘There is still a lot of potential yet to be discovered and developed.’

The project presented a unique opportunity for students to interact with people with dementia and learn more about them. ‘I never had a chance to speak to people [living] with Dementia before,’ Chinese student Miranda Dike Yang said at the beginning of the program. ‘But I am confident and optimistic about the engagement and communication with them in the coming weeks. For me, it is essential to build up trust and meaningful relationships.’ 

Designing for a better future

The final pitches were presented to an industry panel on 8th July. The winning proposal was from a group called WANA (We Are Never Alone): a Collective Impact Social Enterprise focused on creating community frameworks that promote access and inclusivity for people living with dementia whilst providing developers with strong social fabric from the start of their development. The team will share a £15,000 prize to fund a trip (COVID-19 permitting) to develop their idea further in the TEDI-London labs, working alongside industry specialists and the developers behind the Canada Water Masterplan. 

Time will tell if the solutions created by other students will come to fruition in the future, leading to more dementia friendly communities around the world. In the meantime, it has inspired a cohort of intelligent and engaging young people to see the opportunities in the dementia space and think about the ways they can make a difference.

‘The use of engineering and design in healthcare has always been an area of interest for me,’ British student Nadia McLennon says. ‘I’m looking forward to taking up more opportunities like this in the future.’

The TEDI program should be commended for introducing the next generation of engineers and designers to the challenges of dementia. 

‘The feeling of positively contributing to our society has made TEDI London a really enriching experience for me,’ says Australian student Aashna Mittal. ‘I have come to believe in the need for more interdisciplinary professional settings to create an impactful and inclusive world.’

Dementia Friends:

TEDI Summer School 2020:

Winning proposal details:

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