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Guiding cooking tools that motivate seniors with dementia engage in a group activity

Design Research
for elderly with 

B2.2 Design Research 
Studio Silver


assistant professor dr. Rens Brankaert 

Project members: Rani Škrabanja; Lynn Visser; and XinHui Yang

Pleyade (nursing homes)

Serge Offermans (PIT); Hugo Nagtzaam (PIT); and Julie Hornix (van Berlo)

Kooko is presented at Hema headquarters to discuss its potential as commercial Hema product to stimulate healthy eating for children

in short

Design research challenge, approach, methods, results & contribution

Research has proven that lack of stimulation for a long amount of time is disadvantageous to seniors with dementia living in nursing homes. It increases their feeling of loneliness. In this project we researched the effect of cooking therapy on the behavior of elderly with dementia. We wanted to know if guiding cooking tools could help the seniors engage more in a group activity. During this inductive qualitative research, consisting of ethnographic studies, interviews and co-design, we organised a cooking therapy session, KooKo, in a living unit within Pleyade (a nursing home) with the use of a tangible prototype. The seniors were given the task to cut fruits in a group of a small group of 4-6 seniors with dementia with the help of our guiding cooking tools. The main results of our studies showed the importance of rewarding and feedback during the cooking therapy session; that bonding is stimulated by an evoking the residents’ feelings of care; that not everybody wanted to use our cooking tool, but everybody wanted to participate in the group activity; that mood is a huge factor in joining the activity and that simple activity is enough. Our findings recommend cooking therapy as a group activity to engage seniors with dementia to participate in a group activity and thus reduce the chance of developing feelings of loneliness. Further research could also look into the effectiveness of cooking therapy that seeks to improve the mood of participants. Moreover, exploration of cooking tools is interesting for follow-up research to prevent the ‘Cooking Therapy’ to be limited to merely cutting food.



Why I loved this project?

This project for me was very much focused on getting acquainted with scientific writing, literature research & scoping, exploring different UX research methods, client collaboration and multi-stakeholder design research. In this project I discoverd my love for doing design research with people having special needs, in this case seniors with mild to moderate dementia. It was such a pleasure to co-design with these elderly, sometimes even in a non-verbal manner and to see that the user studies already caused a smile on their faces, let alone the fact that we allowed them to "cut fruits" again. A task that was seen by some caretakers as too dangerous. In this way, we empowered them through the engagement in a rather simple task, but together with the other inhabitants of their particular nursing home unit. 

I remember that one of the first visits at the nursing home Pleyade, all students were divided over various living rooms to help preparing lunch with the caretakers and elderly with dementia. Engaging in the daily environment and routines of these elderly motivated me a lot to empower them through design, and contribute through socially engaging designed activities, that could fit in these routines.

This project gave a kickstart to design researching within the context of healthcare, empowerment , social engagement and the use of tangible probes.


My most important goal for last semester was to get more skilled in setting up user studies but also to get more acquainted with analyzation methods. When our team split up into a prototyping team and a user study team for user study 2 I challenged myself to be in the latter one. Within this project I learned with the help of inspiration from similar papers, workshops and coaching about different ways of user study set-ups to gather data for research purposes. I learned about variation in methods and when to choose which one, for example to choose an inductive or deductive study. Executing the first user study, I noticed that studies do not always go as planned due to the personal needs of the elderly with dementia. Some need more rest one day than another, some have family coming over, situations change every day. Therefore, I learned to take this situational variation with me in the preparation of user study 2. I learned the importance of specifying the purpose of research and the fit with proper methods to achieve that. For example by using evaluation forms, interview questions, voice recording and videotaping, all to ease the execution of the study but also the analyzation.

Actually, what I found even more interesting to learn, and which gave me a new direction for my identity, was to analyze all the data out of our inductive user study. Namely, because it was all qualitative data. Through papers about similar studies, I found out how to process all the results, how to code the data and turn it into themes and insights by means of thematic analysis. Moreover, translating these insights into a conclusion regarding the research question was interesting to do, as well as communicating these insights in the paper. For me, what I learned about the analysis of qualitative data is a future take-away. I also based my internship goals on this.
Within this research project I found it hard to focus on the technology involved in our prototypes. On the one hand it felt like for research purposes technology, as electronics, was not needed. On the other hand I could not improve upon my programming skills. However, since for my identity it is important to create the intended interaction and experience I believe the prototyping could have been leveled up. That is why I learned that the social and research parts are important however they can clash with technical goals set.

All in all, I learned to better prepare user studies, to gather user study and analyzation inspiration out of research papers, to translate insights into conclusion regarding the research question and to communicate the qualitative insights into a paper. Lastly, I learned that the social and research parts are important however they can clash with technical goals set, which is an important take-away for future research projects.

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