June 20, 2024

“It’s not always easy to enter the emotional state of those with dementia,” says Poh Yun Ru, a young designer at the National University of Singapore’s Design Incubation Center. And she would know. Poh’s own grandmother suffers from dementia, a firsthand experience that helped inspire Poh’s multi-award-winning cognitive therapy tool, Rewind.

Dementia encompasses a set of cognitive disorders that progressively impair memory, thinking, and—of particular interest to Poh—the ability to perform simple, everyday activities. It’s often characterized by difficulty in problem-solving, as well as profound changes in patients’ behavior and emotions. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 55 million people worldwide suffer from it. That number is only expected to increase as living standards rise globally and people live longer—making age-related conditions like dementia more prevalent and more poignant. The result is a significant public health challenge, with dementia’s impact extending beyond individuals and affecting their families, who must grapple with the emotional and practical challenges of supporting loved ones.

Enter Rewind, which uses visual aids, motion-tracking tools, and sensory cues to spur memory, so dementia patients can relearn how to perform day-to-day tasks such as making tea, watering plants, flipping pancakes, and walking their dogs. Patients use the motion-tracking tool while watching video of the action or gesture, which creates “multi-sensory stimulation” and spurs “meaningful recollections” that help dementia sufferers reengage with their environments and regain autonomy in their routines.

Recognizing that the mass market would be unlikely to produce therapy tools for a relatively niche population, Yun Ru co-developed Rewind with assistance from doctors, healthcare workers, and dementia patients themselves.

“It’s truly heartening to see how Rewind not only fosters engagement among the elderly but also stimulates them to link their memories with the therapy activities,” she tells Quartz. “I really enjoy learning and seeing the world from new perspectives and creating something that becomes relevant and meaningful to the community. Knowing that the design has impacted the lives of even a small group of people is truly rewarding and keeps me going.”

This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023, a series that spotlights the people deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good across the globe. Find the full list here.

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