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An always interesting installment at New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) is the students’ section of work and concepts. This year’s students brought their best, delivering everything from tightly coordinated furniture collections with a Midwest modern aesthetic (001 by the University of Cincinnati) to original prototypes for small-space living (Rochester Institute of Technology in collaboration with Umbra), but one collection in particular stood out for its humanitarian angle.

Working with the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and CaringKind (a research organization that provides assistance to those living with Alzheimer’s and their families), industrial design students from the Pratt Institute presented an apartment-like setting stocked with products and furniture designed to make life easier for patients and caregivers.

Tasked with conceiving objects and furniture that would improve the day-to-day lives of those living with Alzheimer’s and those that care for them, the students consulted with people directly involved with the disease, among them medical and social experts and patients themselves. Each then developed 20 ideas, and from those, 15 were selected for development and prototyping and were presented together at ICFF under the title ‘Design for the Mind.’

While most of us take for granted the simplicity of our daily tasks, like brushing our teeth, preparing a meal and bathing, Pratt’s environment presented an opportunity to reconsider those mundane activities as challenges from the perspective of someone suffering from the debilitating disease.

For some patients, seeing their reflection can be confusing and upsetting, as they don’t recognize the person looking back at them. Picture Mirror (by Hsing Yin Liang) is a two-way mirrored medicine cabinet with an interior light – when the light is on, the reflective surface is replaced by family photos, and when off, live-in caregivers can use the mirror as intended.

Another common challenge as memories become muddled is maintaining casual conversation. To encourage creative storytelling and expressive communication, Story Dice (by Morgan McInvaille) is a set of easy-to-handle oversized die that can be customized with depictions of favourite hobbies or past accomplishments that, when rolled, trigger visual cues that will keep conversation flowing.

When the ability to perform once familiar routines like eating or brushing one’s hair starts to slip, Mirror Table (by Xiaoyong Wang) can be used to help relearn them through mimicry. Placed on a table between patient and caregiver, the mirror-less frame acts as a canvas that the cared-for can use to copy the actions of the caregiver.

Personal safety is a major concern with progressive diminished memory loss, and the kitchen poses many hazards. When a stovetop is turned on and then forgotten, fire and severe burns are a threat. Sharp knives can lead to injuries. The two-piece Out of Sight Drawer and Stovetop (by Caitlin McIver) addresses both of these issues with a chunky cutting board that can be placed over the cooking elements, effectively removing the temptation from view, and a drawer insert that creates a false bottom to conceal knives and other dangerous utensils.

Winning the NYC 2017 Editors’ Award for Wellness, ‘Design for the Mind’ was a revealing reminder of how good design can contribute significantly to everyday life.

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