This past weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in Toronto’s 2017 DementiaHack, organized by HackerNest, an international tech community, and presented by Facebook.
The hackathon included four Challenge Sets (CS) targeted at devising solutions for four communities that are affected by dementia:
My team's idea was a financial projection/planning app for CS2 - caregivers of people with dementia.
According to surveys, finances is one of the [leading sources of stress for Canadians (1)]. [Half of Canadians] lose sleep over worrying about finances and a comparable number are embarrassed about their lack of control over their finances. These worries multiply for those who must care for people with dementia. According to a study by the Alzheimer Society Canada, the projected costs of dementia may increase one's personal expenses by [550%]. This is in addition to the [19.2 million hours] of informal unpaid time that caregivers must spend, often giving up hours of paid employment, to take care of their loved ones with dementia.
With these concerns in mind, we rationalized that a digital tool which helped caregivers prepare for the costs of dementia would be beneficial. In particular, we wanted to be able to help caregivers anticipate increases in costs, which were difficult to predict due to the [irregular rate of degeneration of dementia].
Our research phase consisted of two parts: (1) qualitative research: interviews with caregivers of people with dementia who were Mentors/Judges at the DementiaHack, and (2) quantitative research: gathering numbers for the costs of products and services in Ontario that dementia patients and their caregivers may need.
During our interview with caregivers at the event, we found 5 key insights about the financial burdens of caring for people with dementia (see  for further notes):
From these insights, we concluded that our app would have to rely on user generated data and occasional assessments to map anticipated costs. It would be too difficult to provide a profile for projected costs from a one-time assessment, due to the high variance of decline between individuals. Instead, the app would use caregiver input about new or changing symptoms to tack on expected expenses, corroborated with some average rates of decline data from academic research. Over time, as the user base grew, it would become possible to have a larger body of data to draw from, one which could combine a timeline of caregiver inputs with a timeline of financial spending to generate timeline projections based on dementia symptoms.
To get an idea of the real financial costs of dementia, we put ourselves in a caregiver's shoes and scoured research reports, population surveys, service provider websites, and care community publications for common expenses and their prices. For our prototype for the DementiaHack, we cut the list down to the 25 most common expenses, spanning seven categories:
We also obtained a list of potential income sources that caregivers could also include in their assessment, to offset the added costs of dementia. These often included pensions, retirement savings, and insurance that would kick in for the patient with dementia, who was often a retiree.
With the 30-hour limitation of DementiaHack, our prototype app slimmed down some of the features we'd hoped to implement. We left out the sources of potential income, visualizations of cost projection, and a timeline for costs. We simply did not have the time available to develop these features.
Instead, our prototype app was mainly a research aggregation and simplification app. Having done a lot of financial research, we turned our long list of expense factors into a short user-friendly survey that asked relatable questions about the caregiver's experience and their loved one's symptoms. The answers from this needs-based survey would then feed into our expense factors and generate a tally of expected expenses the caregiver may have to face.
With the stress of facing finances on top of an unpredictable degenerative disease, we thought that navigating the complexities of multiple websites, publications, and resources could be overwhelming. Thus, we hoped our prototype app would be a simple tool that could relieve this stress by translating financial and economic jargon into the day-to-day problems caregivers actively face.
The UI design of our app was based around three key principles:
To accomplish these things, we created a mock-up with simple navigation: three tabs at the bottom split into "Survey", "Assessment", and "Projections". The Survey section stored the caregivers' answers to our survey about their needs, and links to take the survey again or change their answers; the Assessment stored a categorized list of expense items typically associated with dementia care, with the items relevant to our user toggled on; and the Projections page showed a simple budget divided into one-time expenses and monthly expenses.
On a user's first visit to the app, they are shown a screen that invites them to take the intake survey to assess their needs.
The survey showed large print and large icons for the user to tap as their response. Navigation also involved large contextually-placed buttons at the bottom of the screen.
The assessment page showed a breakdown of the costs that the app had determined the user may need. The user is free to adjust these cost here. In the full app, these options would also have "question" icons next to them for users to tap for more information about the item and its cost, and the user would be able to expand each item to finetune its cost. In the prototype, we used boolean toggles for simplicity.
On the Projections page, a sample budget is provided that accounted for the initial costs and monthly costs that a caregiver would have to account for.
At the conclusion of the event, we received a lot of feedback from judges. Some of the most useful comments were:
In addition, looking back at our product, I think there could be some useful design changes as well: