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1. The Problem
Dementia is an irreversible condition that causes progressive loss of cognitive capacity. It refers to a decline in a person’s ability to function emotionally, socially, and physically over time. There are many types of cognitive impairment that occur, and these include:
There is no cure, however, there are some medicines available that slow down the symptoms in some cases. It is important to add that research indicates that therapeutic interventions and quality person-centred care can be more successful than medical interventions.
885,000 people in the UK have a diagnosis of dementia, and this is expected to rise to over 1.6 million by 2040 . With this comes increasing demand for innovative solutions to improve the lives of people living with dementia and their families.
Promoting Early Diagnosis
An early diagnosis of dementia would allow the individual to plan for their own future and have increased involvement in their care plan. However:
- 75% of people with dementia worldwide have not been diagnosed 
- 62% believe a diagnosis of dementia means "life is over" 
- 56% put off seeking a diagnosis for a year or more 
Although there is a range of emerging early detection methods, it is important to first create solutions to allow people to take control post-diagnosis, and plan for their future whilst they still have the capacity to make important decisions.
Importance of Routine
It is crucial to embed good habits post-diagnosis. Maintaining a consistent routine has a number of benefits for people living with dementia, including improved independence and increased self-esteem. Studies have shown that carrying out a specific task regularly will increase the likelihood of that skill remaining as dementia progresses. 
Design a product to improve the lives of people living with dementia through promoting routine. The product should be person-centred and allow the individual to be actively involved in planning for their future.
Motor Skill Learning
Implicit learning is the acquisition of new skills without conscious awareness. In implicit learning, there is no clear distinction between the three stages. This means that skills may become autonomous with reduced cognition. It has been proven that implicit memories and implicit motor skill learning are preserved in people with Alzheimer’s disease . Implicit learning can be utilised in the early stages of dementia, which will allow these memories to act as prompts when the user reaches the later stages
Sensory stimulation is highly effective in people with dementia, as it allows for eased communication and an increased understanding of the world around them.
Olfactory stimuli are capable of more effectively cueing autobiographical memories than other senses. A study asked people with dementia to memorise 24 words whilst being exposed to a scent. The participants were able to recall more words when being exposed to the same scent again. Musical understanding stimulates multiple parts of the brain at once, meaning understanding is preserved as dementia progresses. “One of the most powerful cues to regain access to ‘forgotten memories’ is music”.
As understanding of these senses is maintained into the later stages of dementia, scent and music were selected as the sensory stimuli to be used in the product.
Using essential oils would provide further therapeutic benefits in addition to acting as prompts. Studies have found that exposure to specific essential oils including lavender, lemon and bergamot, rose and ylang-ylang can:
3. Product Overview
GuidePod™ is a smart device to promote routine for people living with dementia through sensory prompts. GuidePod™ empowers people with dementia to take control post-diagnosis and plan for their future and enables daily functions to be maintained for longer.
It can be used as a standalone product or integrated with existing sensor suites.
Replaceable Scent Pods allow for safe and easy refilling, allowing the person with dementia to carry out this task in the earlier stages. When the device detects a Scent Pod is low in liquid, a notification will be sent to the user and/or a carer.
4. Scent Delivery
There are a number of existing mechanisms that produce scents automatically. Atomisation is the process of dispersing a liquid as fine particles. There are various methods by which this can be achieved.
Ultrasonic atomisation uses high-frequency vibration (>20kHz) to create capillary waves on the surface of a liquid. When the frequency of the waves becomes high enough, the waves become unstable, thus producing droplet pinch-offs. The acoustic energy is usually in the form of a piezoelectric transducer. Note that piezoelectric materials generate an electric charge in response to an applied mechanical stress, and vice versa. In this case, an electric charge causes the piezoelectric material to vibrate, producing ultrasonic waves.
Ultrasonic atomisation with a reservoir, also known as cavitation ultrasound, uses ultrasonic
waves to excite the liquid. In this case, the piezoelectric transducer is placed at the bottom of a reservoir, and ultrasonic waves propagate through the body of the liquid. This results in a capillary wave on the surface of the water, with some of this being dispersed as small droplets
Surface Acoustic Wave Devices
An emerging method for atomisation is through the use of surface acoustic wave devices. Today, these devices are most commonly used as bandpass filters in mobile phones. Surface acoustic waves are sound waves that travel parallel to the surface of an elastic material. The principle of operation of a SAW device is based on acoustic wave propagation near the surface of a piezoelectric material. They implement interdigital transducers, IDTs, which apply a current and induce a wave that propagates through the material.
Surface acoustic wave (SAW) devices are components typically found in mobile phones. However, they have been investigated for their atomisation capabilities. Challenges in developing this technology have been the inconsistency of droplet position which results in lower efficiency of atomisation
Ultrasonic Mesh Atomiser
A piezoelectric transducer can also be used to directly atomise the liquid. Note that these devices are also known as ‘vibrating membrane nebulisers’ in drug delivery applications. When the liquid comes into contact with the atomizing surface, it forms a thin liquid film. A piezoelectric atomiser features a matrix of microscopic holes in the centre, allowing liquid to be simultaneously atomised and pumped through the mesh.
This method was tested through the teardown of an existing product, as shown below.
Ultimately, direct atomisation was selected as the most suitable and practical method, also lending itself well to wicking.
5. Replaceable Scent Pods
To allow the option for people with dementia to independently use the product, particularly in the earlier stages, it was critical to design a safe and intuitive refilling process. Therefore, a replaceable cartridge system was implemented. This concept led to the final design using a cotton wick, meaning the user never has to physically come into contact with any liquid. Outsourcing bottles was deemed to be the most commercially viable option. Although the calculated ideal volume was 87.5ml, however, this has to be compromised due to the limited sizes available.