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Making Bathing Safer for Dementia Patients

The students who invented a better bathing chair are working on a prototype

Most of us take good design for granted. When a product is made well, we use it with little effort. The lid fits on my coffee cup and I drink without worry. A leaky lid, on the other hand, means coffee drips on my dress as I drive into work. Or worse, I burn my fingers, causing a bigger spill and a bigger burn. Augh!  

At a minimum, bad design is a source of aggravation. At its worst, it can be dangerous.

Bathroom danger is what graphic design major Shae Stein saw at Highgate Senior Living in Bozeman, Mont., according to a recent story by Lois A.  Bowers for McKnight’s Senior Living.

Design Thinking

“Nurses at the independent living, assisted living and memory care community told Stein and his classmates that residents with dementia — disoriented by the water pouring over their heads, uncomfortable on the cold plastic and afraid of falling — often fought their caregivers during bathing: biting and bruising them,” Bowers writes. “In addition, the chairs were difficult to clean.”

Using a process known as “design thinking,” which emphasizes empathy and the needs of end-user, Stein and his fellow Montana State University students set about coming up with a solution. The result is a more stable bathing chair they call SecondNature that’s safer and easier for both residents and their caregivers to use.

“Warm water flows directly from the chair itself, eliminating the shock a resident can feel when touching a cold chair and helping prevent a resident from grabbing the showerhead,” Bowers writes.

In a recent essay for Next Avenue, Greg O’Neill, director of the National Academy on an Aging Society and founder of Aging Means Business, made the case for “How Design Thinking Can Help Us With Aging.”

This innovative bath chair is a prime example of that in action. Stein and his fellow chair designers won second place in their school’s statewide business startup challenge, where SecondNature was also named “people’s choice” and “most innovative product.”  They’re using the $13,500 in prize money to work with the employer of one of the team members, Salient Technologies, to build a prototype.

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