Levon Hutchinson
— Edited interview

Sensory Stimulation for Old People with Dementia

For this Summer Studentship project, Levon Hutchinson collaborated with the team at Good Health Design. This Summer Studentship project involved creating moments of sensory stimulation for people with dementia. These sensory products have been designed specifically for older people with dementia to cherish in their day to day lives. The following is an edited interview with Hutchinson.

“The products are reflective of materials and forms that may be nostalgic and provoke positive feelings for the users. Each object’s function is open to the interpretation of the user but should suggest calming interactions that engage a variety of senses. By collaborating with a sensory therapist, I was able to identify appropriate sensory exercises for people with dementia which are implemented in this ‘toolkit’ of objects. Firstly, deep physical touch and texture and secondly, sound applied through the feedback of interaction. The final exercise encourages deep breathing and repetition.

“These products target sensory stimulation in different ways in one cohesive kit. These pocket-sized objects can be taken anywhere and used whenever one feels the need to. Older people with dementia don’t always receive the stimulation they need to keep their minds and bodies active. Therefore, the sensory stimulation tool kit is a companion tailored to their need and ability.

“I like creating physical products and Steve Reay and I saw an opportunity to create a set of sensory products to help dementia patients as a way for them to relax and bring their alert levels down. It can be beneficial for people experiencing dementia to use sensory products that activate touch, sound and smell receptors. Dementia patients may cherish little tactile objects that they can hold onto and they could even help them to relax.

“I started by doing a bit of initial research on dementia because I was not too familiar with the topic at the start of the project, and then I went into drawing and I had a good opportunity, having my own personal 3D printer, so I was able to make some quick fire models.

“The focus of the inquiry was to help elderly people with dementia, and I think that does relate to a lot of my values. Projects I have done in the past have often involved empowering people and that will flow on into my master’s. Creating physical, tangible products is also something that I value and enjoy.

“I used a lot of research and interviews and also managed to link up with Daniel Sutton who works with dementia patients. He helped me a lot with the sensory-based area of my project. I used a lot of natural materials like wood and that was something that Daniel emphasized was really beneficial for elderly people. The idea of deep touch with objects and designing nostalgic and meaningful interactions was the overall intention of the project.”


Centre for Design Research
Te Kura Toi a Hoahoa
School of Art and Design

Te Wānanga Aronui o Tāmaki Makau Rau,
Auckland University of Technology


Susan Hedges susan.hedges@aut.ac.nz
Mandy Smith mandy.smith@aut.ac.nz

Authors are responsible for obtaining permission to publish images or illustrations with their papers in CDR; neither editors nor publishers of CDR accept responsibility for any author’s/authors’ failure to do so.

© Centre for Design Research, AUT University 2021