We chat to design expert and new Unforgettable expert panel member Ben Atkinson-Willes about his company Active Minds, a design and retail business specialising in activity products for people living with dementia.

What gave you the idea for Active Minds?

‘I first became aware of the need for activity products designed specially for people with dementia during my time at Kingston University, when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

As my grandfather’s condition progressed myself and my family began to notice that, when traditional puzzles and activities became too difficult, carers were left with no option but to turn to children’s toys. I felt very deeply that this was both demeaning and patronising to people living with dementia and so set about designing a range of puzzles suited specifically to the needs of those living with the condition. I was already studying design at Kingston so I put the skills I was learning to use researching and perfecting my products.’

What was your first key product and how did you develop it?

‘The first product we launched were our jigsaw puzzles designed especially for people with dementia. I wanted to create an activity that was both dignified and that could be carried out unassisted to help dementia patients maintain a feeling of independence. I had also researched the significance of images to memory and cognitive impairment and felt like jigsaw puzzles were the perfect initial project.

During development I was able to work closely with both the university and the head of dementia care at St George’s Hospital to develop a jigsaw designed uniquely for people with dementia, with a combination of carefully-designed pieces and a backing board that would provide assistance without the need for intervention from a carer or loved one. I was able to test the activities in care homes and was delighted to see people both enjoying the puzzles unaided and finding them a useful reminiscence tool.’

How did you fund the project and get it up and running?

‘Initially I received a £5000 award from the university, which allowed me to develop my first range of products. After that I worked with Unltd, an amazing charity that offers financial support, mentoring, workshops, and advisors to social business start-ups.

From there I was able to develop an increasing range and variety of products designed to improve the lives of both people with dementia and those caring for them, providing products to clients such as the NHS, Alzheimer’s Society, and Bupa.’

What are your plans for the future?

‘I would love to see Active Minds become the leading global developer of specialist activity resources for people living with dementia. We will continue researching and designing new and innovative activities, products, and aids for those living with dementia and hope to one day be able to offer a product to suit the needs of people of all abilities and interests.’

Watch the video to find out more about Active Minds.