Mara Vöcking

September / September - 2019

Folkwang Universität der Künste Essen

Bachelor of Arts


„Sense’ability“ are participatory designed interactive pillows that improve communication among people with dementia living in private homes or assisted living communities.

What is the Topic?

People with dementia continue to spend a large part of their remaining life at home or increasingly live in assisted living communities for people with dementia. However, communication with other residents who also suffer from dementia becomes more and more restricted as the symptoms of dementia increase. Speech becomes less clear as the disease progresses and seems increasingly incoherent. Residents who are less severely ill do not know how to approach the others and are afraid that they themselves will soon be as restricted. Lack of speech and isolation has a negative influence on the course of the disease, and there is a lack of activating and encouraging everyday structures, speech and stimulation.

Why does it look like this?

The interactive pillows „Sense'ability" were developed in a participatory and creative process in cooperation with 12 people in an assisted living communities for people with dementia. The pillows were developed together with the residents in weekly field trials. Exploring the senses of touch and hearing still works well for many people with dementia. The communication of the residents can be influenced particularly positively by an appropriate weight, surface and interaction of the pillows. The pillow is programmed with a motion sensor that detects people passing by. The pillow starts to move back and forth to attract people's attention. As soon as someone becomes curious and picks it up, an accelerometer detects the movement and the pillow starts playing soothing, exciting or cheerful music. There are three different types of pillows, with different feel and interesting textures. The fabrics are attractively designed and are often examined with hands and face. Each pillow sends vibrating movements to the surface for a soothing and stimulating experience.

What is special?

People with dementia find it increasingly difficult to communicate with each other during the course of the disease. Precisely because more and more dementia patients live in assisted living communities, this topic is becoming more and more important. Severely impaired patients are often excluded from communication among the flatmates. A lack of speech and stimulation has a negative influence on the course of the disease and often cannot be completely compensated by the daily caregivers. Self-motivated stimulation is no longer possible for dementia patients. The interactive „Sense'ability" pillows draw attention to themselves through movement and motivate severely ill residents to engage with them. Through communication with and via the pillows, the language of severely ill persons becomes much clearer, the mood loosens up and often invites other people to join in. The severely ill persons are thus integrated into a group and into the general communication.

What is new?

The number of dementia patients in Germany is expected to double to 3 million by 2050. Among other things, those affected lose their cognitive abilities and the ability to communicate (verbally) during the course of the disease. Currently, the only treatment options available are those that improve the quality of life. There is no cure for the dementia disease.  An important part of therapy is mental and physical activation, which can have a positive influence on the course of the disease. Social participation, communication and the experience of autonomy is of particular importance for the patients. The interactive pillow enable people with dementia to train their everyday skills and help to improve their quality of life. Vibration and movement in the pillow trigger a positive body experience. This can be fun and enjoyable and leads to a reduction of regression and restlessness. The sound impulses can be a starting point for further conversations, or simply for listening together. As the pillows have no recognition value whatsoever, there is room for the own imagination and everyone can see something different in them. Thus the product stands for itself, remains undefined and strives for communication.