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Moving Together to Improve Quality of Life with Dementia

An in-home telehealth application designed for people living with dementia and Alzheimer's.

As too many of us know from personal experience, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease fuel devastating, costly conditions that lead to a decline in one’s ability to think and function independently. Together Senior Health (“Together”) is on a mission to support people living with dementia and their caregivers through online programs focused on movement, mindfulness, and community.

Based upon work by Dr. Deborah Barnes, a Professor of Psychiatry and Epidemiology & Biostatistics at UCSF, Together facilitates a 12-week movement program called “Moving Together” that has led to reduced cognitive and physical decline, and improved quality of life for seniors living with dementia.

When Dr. Barnes originally piloted her program, groups of veterans, seniors living with dementia, and caregivers gathered for an in-person, 60 minute movement class. Over the course of several pilots, the potential was clear: the combination of evidence-based movements, caregiver engagement, and sense of community were 2-3x more effective than drug-based solutions in improving dimensions of physical, cognitive, and quality of life functions.

The question quickly became: How can these programs scale to reach as many people as possible? 

Together partnered with Exygy to make Moving Together classes accessible to the wider population of people facing dementia. Because Together originally relied on grants, time-efficiency was critical to getting funding to further scale the program. With the goal of showing rapid, measurable results, Exygy got to work. Here’s how we did it:

 

Discovery and Field Research

Our design team began by digging into participant personas: who are the people enrolled in Moving Together? What variables need to be anticipated? How can the platform support not only program participants, but multiple instructors, as well? 

Our team participated in live classes and interviewed participants to collect feedback about program experiences. We asked participants about their daily routines and home life, so we could gain a fuller understanding of their needs outside of classes. From this research, we developed a comprehensive set of insights around common user goals, challenges, and motivations, including their level of comfort with different technologies. 

Stakeholders meet to kickoff project

Stakeholder kickoff meeting

 

Through our research, we learned that a primary challenge for participants to join classes was having to leave the house. Between increased distraction of multiple participants in the same room, the unfamiliar environment, and the stress on caregivers to navigate the logistics and extra preparation, it was clear that we needed to create an in-home solution.

 

Rapid Prototyping

Moving Together participants, who range in terms of technological ability, internet access, and disease stage, needed a tailored solution designed and built for diverse capabilities. 

  • In 2 weeks, we created user personas (below) and mapped user journeys.
  • In 4 weeks, we created low-fidelity wireframes which capture key platform interactions.
  • In 6 weeks, we designed a telehealth application that allows participants to join classes through their television at home.

 

Eric Lam , Partner of Health

The real value of a user persona is to capture the motivations and goals of the people who will be using the application.

Eric Lam, Partner - Health

In taking a human-centered design approach, our designers and engineers were able to create a low-cost, functioning prototype to test in 10 weeks. Our nimble development process hinged on our ability to test the prototype with users each week after launch; learning what worked and what needed to be adjusted, and immediately implementing fixes to be tested the following week’s class.

 

Over the course of 3 months, our team continued to test and iterate on the Moving Together prototype. All the while, instructors saw consistent improvement in participants, allowing Together to capture meaningful data on the program’s impact on cognitive, physical, and social resilience in connection with dementia and Alzheimers. 

Two key metrics:

  1. Participant satisfaction rate: 100% of participants reported high levels of engagement and enjoyment, namely because they were able to stay at home – the environment they were most comfortable in. 
  2. Attendance rate: could people comfortably access the class, and come back regularly? The results: 70% of the participants completed the program, with dropouts due to other health events or changes in home status. 
Screenshot of a Moving Together class

Participants virtually meet in the comfort of their living rooms

 

Moving Together has played a particularly critical role in participants’ lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when social isolation among seniors is at an all-time high, classes have remained uninterrupted. Moving Together continues to provide reliable, consistent social connection for participants living with dementia and their caregivers. 

Our audience has a wide variety of familiarity with technology - it is critical that we design our products to be inclusive without 'dumbing things down.' The team at Exygy responded to the needs of older adults with dementia with respect and confidence, and helped us design an interface that works well for everyone.

Cynthia Benjamin, CEO & Co-Founder at Together Senior Health