At the age of 22, Alex Nash has already designed an exciting range of dementia products which he hopes to launch soon. Here, Alex reveals why he became so determined to help people on the dementia journey
Like many dementia innovators, Alex Nash’s inspiration came from personal experience and a desire to make life better for his own family. ‘My grandfather Richard was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s around two years ago, then months later my grandmother had to go into hospital for a hip operation,’ says Alex. ‘Grandad was at home on his own which was very worrying for Mum. She’d be phoning him all the time asking him a list of questions, such as, “Have you eaten? Have you had a drink? Have you taken your insulin?” It was sad to see their relationship rapidly changing from father/daughter to patient/carer.’
Alex decided to put the skills he was developing as an undergraduate product design engineer to good use. ‘I was in my penultimate year at Loughborough University and I started wondering if there was something I could make which would help Mum and Grandad. What if technology could provide assurance that Granddad was okay? If I could design a product that reminded Grandad to do all those important things on Mum’s checklist – and to notify Mum if he hadn’t done them – so she could focus on having a good conversation with Grandad.’
Alex began developing his idea. Then, after attending an entrepreneurial summer school at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA, he realised his idea may have the potential to be far more than just a university project.
Nearly two years later, Alex has created a range of products called Memo which are designed to ask all those important ‘check-list’ questions for you. At its core is a tablet-like device (the Memo hub), and the range is able to check whether your loved one has eaten or drank enough. It can check if they’ve taken their medication (it will also connect to an automatic pill dispenser, the Memo Pill to be able to automatically re-order medication if needed). It can monitor whether the room they’re sitting in is the correct temperature. The range includes a wrist-worn day clock, the Memo band, which is also a falls sensor and locator and will monitor wellbeing and check levels of activity.
‘I kept asking myself, “Can technology provide the reassurance that the person you love is safe and well?”’ says Alex. “Can technology do all the ‘tick boxing’ for you so that you can focus on just being family again?”’
Alex has been supported by experts and highly skilled advisers at Loughborough University to ensure his Memo range achieves clinical levels of accuracy, and that false alarms are a rarity. ‘Some fall sensors are activated when a person simply puts a cup down on a coffee table with too much force,’ he explains. ‘We wanted something much more accurate than that – false alarms are incredibly stressful.’
Unforgettable founder James Ashwell has also supported Alex. ‘James has been a really helpful person to discuss and share ideas with,’ he says. ‘Having cared for his mum with dementia, his insights have been invaluable.’
So what excites this young innovator most about the products he’s designed? ‘I think it’s the idea that when you link all these products to each other they become more and more intelligent,’ he says. ‘The data they can provide is so extensive. They can tell us, for example, if the person with dementia is as active as normal, if their activity drops when the temperature of the house drops. The wrist band can detect skin temperature, a spike in pulse and oxygen levels in the blood. Ultimately there’s no reason why all this accurate data can’t be used by doctors to reveal a much broader picture of what’s going on in a person’s life.’
Alex was also keen to ensure his products were stylishly designed to blend in nicely with home furnishings. ‘Why shouldn’t a product designed for someone with dementia not look as good as one designed by Apple? For me, it was really important that these products weren’t simply functional but that they looked good too and deserved their place in a kitchen, bedroom or living room.’
There’s no doubt Alex has succeeded in creating a sleek and impressive range of products which he insists will be so easy to operate there will be no need for an instruction book. ‘If you need an instruction manual, your product isn’t simple enough,’ he says.
But dementia is a progressive condition and many families are understandably concerned about buying products that could soon become redundant. Could the Memo range become yet another gadget left gathering dust in a corner? Alex insists this needn’t happen.
‘In the mid to late stages of dementia the range can be used as a calendar service for families and carers to streamline and coordinate the care they’re providing. Then if a loved one goes into a care home, the Memo can go with them and be used to monitor levels of care, such as what they’ve eaten, how much they’ve had to drink, how many visits from carers they’ve received or whether they’ve had their medication. The range is really adaptable.’
The Memo hub and app will go on sale later this year, followed by the rest of the range in 2018. ‘I wanted to design a range of products that provide reassurance for families and loved ones whilst allowing people with dementia to retain as much independence as possible,’ says Alex. ‘I hope I’ve succeeded.’
So will his grandfather be the first to take advantage? ‘He already has,’ laughs Alex. ‘Grandad was one of the first people to test the Memo hub and really liked it. He’s always asking me about the other products and when he can use them. Sadly my gran died last year so he’s now living with my parents but still doing quite a lot for himself.’
Alex is painfully aware of the growing need for dementia innovation. ‘My other grandad was also recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so my family could have a tough few years ahead,’ he adds. ‘Of course technology can never replace human contact, but if innovators can provide solutions which help and support families and when they really need it…surely that has to be a good thing?’
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