We discover the top tips and dementia-friendly product suggestions from Unforgettable expert panel member Ben Atkinson-Willes

Who are you?

I’m Ben Atkinson-Willes the founder of Active Minds, a product design company that create specialist activity products for people living with dementia.

What expertise can you bring to the Unforgettable panel?

After six years developing products, I have a wealth of experience and understanding on the positive impact that tailored resources can make to the day-to-day wellbeing of somebody with dementia.

Do you have a personal interest in dementia?

My drive to improve the resources available to those living with dementia was born out of the experience of caring for my grandfather who lived with dementia for 16 years.

As a family we noticed that all his care needs were well catered for, but as time progressed the more obvious challenge became finding things for him to do that would keep him occupied. As time went on, we noticed the traditional games, puzzles and activities we had previously used were becoming increasingly obsolete. To meet this need, we were forced to start using children’s toys. As a family we found this patronising, undignified and unnecessary.

I decided to set up Active Minds to create activity products, which through research and rigorous testing, meet the unique needs of those living with dementia and return them the right to continue to enjoy their hobbies in a dignified way.

If a family carer asked you for advice on what could help improve the quality of life for their mother or father who has just been diagnosed with dementia, what would you say?

Keeping people with dementia mentally and physically stimulated has a huge impact on their health and quality of life. Research shows regular activity helps to reduce restlessness, aggressive behaviour and sleeplessness; symptoms which can make caring for someone living with dementia even more challenging.

Making sure your loved one continues to do as many of their normal daily activities as possible will maintain their independence and ensure they continue to lead an active and fulfilling life. This can get frustrating when simple task take much longer but it is important to be as patient as possible.

When normal day-to-day tasks become too challenging there is a large range of specialist activity products on the market that can help people maintain their hobbies and engage with the people around them.

What would your advice be for what they should do now and how they can best prepare for the journey ahead?

The first and most important thing is optimism. Optimism provides a positive framework which influences all subsequent decision making as the family enter the journey. Following a diagnosis of dementia, many people have a predisposition to notice what tasks can no longer be done. As a company, we have witnessed the enormous impact made when instead people focus on observing what can be done and being creative around exploring that.

What products would you recommend to help a person caring for someone with dementia?

1. Dementia: The one stop guide by June Andrews
June Andrews has produced some fantastic guidelines on the challenges associated with caring for somebody with dementia. She suggests some fantastic, ‘at home’ environmental adjustments which can make a huge difference to the wellbeing of the entire family.
Suitable for post-diagnosis and early stage dementia

2. Aquapaint
Late
Painting is a hugely therapeutic activity for everybody regardless of ability. Our inspiration for this product came when we observed painting exercises in care homes and saw 30% of the room who were at later stages were not participating. Aquapaint gives people with later stage dementia the full sensation and satisfaction of creating a wonderful painting themselves.
Suitable for late stage dementia

3. Memory Box
Late
Memory boxes are a lovely way for people looking to connect with past.
Touch is such an important sense - and when people are able to hold important and familiar objects from their former years - a rich layer of conversation is reached.
Suitable for late stage dementia

4. Many Happy Returns Reminiscence Cards
These cards are a powerful tool that helps bring back past memories and stimulate conversations between different generations. It’s impossible not to start exploring memories and personal stories from the era.
Suitable for mid-stage dementia

5. Simple Music Player
This really simple, yet quite beautiful music player that helps people with dementia to still start/stop the music themselves. Where the normal sound system would aggravate someone due to it’s complexity. This well designed product enables the individual living with dementia to do it themselves.
Suitable for mid-stage dementia