VerilyConnect is a digital research platform aimed at assisting people who care for loved ones living with dementia, with the goal in mind of creating dementia-friendly communities throughout rural townships in Australia.
How might we reduce the sense of burden for carers and improve their personal health and wellbeing through a digital platform?
Caring for a loved one living with dementia can be an emotional rollercoaster. Feelings of uncertainty, helplessness, frustration and isolation are prevalent factors leading to mental illness issues amongst carers such as anxiety and depression.
And, whilst the amount of quality information about dementia has dramatically increased in the past number of years, access to this information is often delivered through poor user experiences and contingent on efficient internet and mobile network access as which often excludes rural parts of Australia. Even in smaller townships, the availability of medical facilities and mental health support services is also more widely dispersed when compared to urban centres.
“I feel exhausted supporting my loved one and find it difficult to access information and services to make important health decisions for them”
— Phase One Participant Carer
Verily Connect is a research project running in rural communities in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. It has been co-designed as part of a research project led by La Trobe University, in partnership with Swinburne University, Flinders University, University of Newcastle, and University of Saskatchewan (Canada).
Based on our work with health organisations focused on dementia research and education, Plural was appointed to partner with various research teams at the team at the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research at La Trobe and Swinburne University.
Plural engaged in a user experience process to determine what kind of content, functionality and interactivity would best suit the objectives of the project. Co-design sessions included a series of research interviews and comprehensive workshops with carers and health support workers in sample communities to effectively map, analyse and prioritise a wide range of potential opportunities.
“Ongoing and “drip feeding” information – not just “dumping” at diagnosis.”
— Carer Insight
Accessing appropriate information at the right time was critically important for participants. The nature of initial advice or response participants received at the time of mounting signs of dementia with their spouse or relative either helped or hindered their search for information. Many family carers described feelings of helplessness and/or confusion in these early stages and then often withdrew when their first attempts at seeking help were rebuffed.
Our research and ideation formed recommendations for what content and functionality for the design and development of a multi-platform mobile and web application.
The app provides functions focused on improving the lives of carers such as a series of curated knowledge guides, a category based chat area, geo-targeted directories of local support services and guidance on where to find further information and social connection to other carers.
A contemporary and accessible visual identity was developed concurrently for the purposes of giving the app its visual form, but also for marketing and communications materials with which to promote the app and the Verily Connect project as a whole to carers throughout the chosen project townships.
A thorough prototyping process, in consultation with project stakeholders, was conducted within 12 rural parts of Australia.