Creating great technology experiences for people living with dementia requires talking to them and getting to know them. Understanding what people with dementia really want and need can lead to results that are both surprising and rewarding. When a person with dementia tells you that your product makes them want to cry (tears of joy, not frustration), you know you’re on the right track.

 Remember, you are there to learn from their experience. We’ve engaged people with dementia in our design process in many ways, including interviews, usability studies, and product testing. What we’ve learned is that the user experience (UX) research methods you use are important, but how you work with people with dementia matters more. Here are our top tips for engaging people with dementia and creating technology that really works for them:



Engage with empathy

Remember, you are there to learn from their experience.
  • Be clear. Let people know what to expect before and during all engagements. Avoid jargon and tech buzzwords.
  • Be flexible. Offer to meet people when and where they want to meet. You want them to feel as comfortable as possible at all times.
  • Be warm and genuine. Spend time building rapport. Listen actively and assure people that you’re there to learn from their experience.
  • Show your gratitude. Compensate people for their time and follow up to let them know how their feedback influenced the product.

Keep the design simple

  • Focus on key product features that really matter to users and will make a difference for them. Don’t be distracted by the latest cool thing in UX design.
  • Develop consistent design patterns. Routine is important for people living with dementia.
  • Create a clean, simple look and feel that’s age appropriate. Enhance readability by using larger-than-average font sizes coupled with visual cues.

Deliver a stellar customer experience

  • Create an emotional connection. Keep users’ needs at the center of all you do.
  • Provide personalized customer support. Demonstrate that you really care about people’s post-purchase experience.
  • Grow your product to meet changing needs. Continually check in with people and learn from their experience.

While we’ve used these best practices for our work with people with dementia, we believe they apply when working with people with other types of disability as well. Being open and showing empathy is important in all interactions. We’d love to hear about your experiences with user engagement! Contact or @jenniferlkrul on Twitter to share your story.

Note: Our best practices for engaging with empathy are based on results from our research partnership with the University of Waterloo, the Murray Alzheimer Research and Education Program (MAREP), and the Ontario Dementia Advisory Group (ODAG). Jennifer Krul (Emmetros) and Lisa Loiselle (MAREP) presented the findings of their research project at the recent Canadian Association on Gerontology annual conference in Winnipeg.