The project ‘Make-Believe Matters. The Moral Role Things Play in Dementia Care’ developed and piloted a workshop for ethical reflection for designers and caregivers

Residential dementia care is currently flooded with high- and low-tech interventions that contain aspects of make-believe. Camouflaged doors and imitation bus stops secure safety. Sociable robots offer companionship. VR installations provide as-if outings, and nostalgic interiors are expected to make people feel ‘at home’. These interventions can help caregivers respond to different realities that people with dementia often experience, but they also involve the pro-active creation of different realities for people with dementia. As such, these objects and environments are potentially deceptive.

Based on ethnographic fieldwork into practices of use and design of these objects, the ZonMW Ethiek en Gezondheid project ‘Make-Believe Matters. The Moral Role Things Play in Dementia Care’ by Ruud Hendriks (AMC), Ike Kamphof (AMC) and Tsjalling Swierstra (MUSTS), developed a three-hour workshop for caregivers and designers around the question: When can (practices with) objects with aspects of make-believe be seen as supportive of a person with dementia, and when do they count as deceptive or manipulative? In two interactive rounds, participants work on concrete case-descriptions, articulating and weighing the normative dilemmas around selected objects in relation to five crucial values: the autonomy and the dignity of the person with dementia, the authenticity of his/her life and relationships, the possibility of trust in the social and material environment, and the integrity of caregivers and designers involved. At the same time, participants are invited to develop and justify alternative design solutions.

The workshop was piloted amongst others at the symposium ‘Dementia Lab. Stories from Design and Research’, Dortmund (September 06, 2017), at the IVVU (Vereniging voor zorg organisaties Utrecht), and at facilities for residential care in the Netherlands (Brabantzorg) and Belgium (de Wingerd, Leuven). The workshop will be further developed for use as an independent educational module.