Life Enrichment for People Living With Dementia

Life Enrichment for People Living With Dementia

Life Enrichment for People Living With Dementia

Memory Care Experience Station


The Memory Care Experience Station (MCES) is a large scale interactive experience from Maria Mortati Experience Design.

Made for people with mid-to-late stage dementia, it provides engaging experiences via bespoke multi sensory content. It is meant for life enrichment.

The current iteration is deployed and being enjoyed by residents at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living.

My Role

I was brought on to build a research database for Alzheimer's. My role quickly grew to include developing proof of concept mock ups, low fidelity physical prototypes, and digital UI design. All of which were tested with residents and staff

Duration: 18 non-consecutive months

Experience Design
UI & Design Systems


Created engaging experiences with strongly positive feedback from residents, and made the digital content library more relevant to user needs and easier to develop.


Hridae Walia (Me) - Interaction Designer

Maria Mortati - Principal Designer

Scott Minneman - Technical Architect

Many others! - Staff, Student Designers, & The Residents!


High Fidelity Wireframes

Mid Fidelity Physical Prototypes

Research Reports

Experience Diagrams






Hammer, probably

Awards & Recognition

Fast Company

The Station was a finalist in Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards, under the experimental category.

SCAN Foundation

The foundation created an honorable mention category for the project, recognizing organizations that have embraced the principles of human-centered design.

Leading Age, California

Finalist in the Innovation Showcase, which recognizes ideas that include evidenced-informed technologies, and improving quality of life for older adults.

The Challenge

Create Life Enriching Experiences for People Living With Mid to Late Stage Dementia at a Memory Care Facility

The San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living aimed to improve the quality of life for residents living with mid to late stage dementia.

People living with mid to late stage dementia often lack engaging and stimulating experiences, leading to isolation, boredom, and other behavioral challenges, which ultimately result in a decreased quality of life.

I was hired by Maria Mortati Experience Design as an Interaction Designer for the MCES project to research, design, and prototype immersive experiences. It was an opportunity for me to design in ambiguity, and with a ton of freedom.

My Key Challenge: Create immersive, interactive, and viable experiences for the MCES, to create life enriching experiences for people living with Alzheimer's at the SFCJL.



The MCES was made for residents living with mid-to-late stage dementia at the SFCJL. They require a lot of care and close monitoring by facility staff, so we needed to be make sure the experiences we designed were safe and accessible.

Facility Staff

Residents are always assisted by the SFCJL staff who are nurses. The staff's duty is to ensure resident safety and to guide them through any activity. Staff members needed things to be as simple and streamlined as possible.

Key Constraints

Sensitive Population

Due to the sensitive conditions of people living with Dementia and their environment, we did not have immediate access to them. We tested and evaluated internally until we were able to test higher fidelity prototypes with residents.

Usage by Proxy

The population we were designing for were not able to setup and initiate the experience themselves, so it had to be designed to be used and maintained by staff.

My Contribution

Evolving Role

Initial Role:

  • Building an HCI research database for Alzheimer's

  • Heuristic evaluation of existing technologies

Evolved Role:

  • Developing proof of concept mock ups

  • Low fidelity physical prototypes

  • Digital UI design & design system creation

Key Challenge: Create immersive, interactive, and viable experiences for our target audience.

Foundational Research

Conducted foundational research on Alzheimer's that directly contributed to the development of the experience.

  • Understanding the age-tech landscape

  • Evaluating multi-sensory experiences and technology for people with Alzheimer's

  • Establishing design principles and best practices for mid-to-late stage Dementia

Experience Design

Prototyping engaging, multisensory experiences for people with mid-to-late stage Dementia.

  • Designing for more interactivity and immersion

  • Rapidly prototyping effective and feasible experiences

  • Balancing soothing vs stimulating experiences

  • User testing with residents and facility staff

Digital Content Library

Designing a 'Netflix-like' content library for the station, enabling personalized experiences for the residents while enabling facility staff to track sessions.

  • Designed in collaboration with CCA MDes students

  • Streamlining the information architecture

  • Establishing a design system for easier dev handoff

  • Collaborating with staff to maintain parity with paper-based forms


  • Created impactful experiences that are consistently used by the residents

  • Formed a strong research foundation that served as a guide for the design of all experiences

  • Streamlined Content Library UI for easier development and closer adherence to staff needs

  • Over 200 sessions with residents demonstrated overwhelmingly positive feedback

Foundational Research

Understanding the Stages of Dementia

The residents who we were designing for were mostly at the mid to late stages of Dementia, I researched their quality of life, behaviors, and accessibility considerations.

On this scale, our target audience lie between stages 4 and 6. Key characteristics are;

  • Memory deficiencies

  • Desensitivity to stimuli

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Difficulty socializing

  • Behaviors can be similar to children with Autism

Another key point to understand was that this project was meant for life enrichment, not attempting to cure Dementia in any way (which at the moment is not possible).

Researching Multisensory Experiences

Building off the insights from the stages of Dementia, I wanted to research the efficacy of (multi) sensory experiences for people with Dementia, Autism, and in general.

Key sensory stimuli were;

  • Scent - Strongly connected to memory

  • Touch - Can facilitate immersion and a sense of presence

I also explored potential implementation techniques

  • Diffusers - I researched the use of diffusers for controlling and emitting scent according to content displayed on screen

  • Ultraleap Haptics - I explored the capabilities of the Ultraleap Ultrasonic Haptic device by trying its demo content, and attempting to make my own demos. It was not a good fit because the tactile feedback was not strong enough, and the small surface area made it difficult to implement.

Slide from a tech review document I prepared
Playing around with the Ultraleap demos

Evaluating the Potential of AR/VR

The leadership of the SFCJL were also curious about AR/VR and wanted us to explore its use for the project.

As an AR/VR enthusiast, I used my expertise to research existing immersive technologies and analyzed their application through primary and secondary research.

Since we were dealing with a sensitive population, our research showed that Virtual/Augmented Reality solutions were not suitable.

People with mid to late stage Dementia have difficulty concentrating and struggle with memory. The inclusion of a virtual reality would further disconnect them from their reality and cause confusion or even harm.

I synthesized my findings into a slide deck comparing different immersive and interactive devices.

Slide comparing active/passive interaction with level of immersion

Synthesizing Research & Defining Principles

I also used our learnings of the problem space and the facility to create an Ecosystem Diagram to map out how different stakeholders would interact with our solution, and how it exists within the SFCJL facility.

Our research led us to form design principles that would serve as guides throughout the product development process.





Screenshot of the research database I helped create & maintain
Ecosystem diagram I created

Experience Design

Building off of the findings from our foundational research and insights from some of the early experiences tested with the MCES, it was my job to create new experiences that were interactive, immersive, and engaging while also being easy to setup and operate by facility staff.

Cat Petting Experience

The Cat Petting Experience is an interactive experience for the cat loving residents! 3 cats are set up on a board and when pet, they emit a purring vibration, while playing a video of that cat on the MCES screen.

  • Sensory stimulation

  • Social engagement

  • Residents love cats

  • Easy to setup for facility staff

  • Exploring Form: Trying to attach synthetic fur on an arcade button
  • Exploring Form: I had to do horrible things to get those sensors in there… sorry kitty.
  • Implementation: Attaching small LFEs to the cat platform and testing them with an audio amplifier
  • Solidifying: Fixing all the wiring for the prototype so its ready for on-site testing


Building off an existing texture stimulation toy for Alzheimer's, I set out to create an interactive, tactile, and engaging experience.

Why cats?

I used cats as the basis for this experience because the theme enabled the experience to combine tactile feedback (petting), haptics (purring), and immersion (cat video) in a natural way. Plus I like cats, and so do a lot of the residents.


I tested the cat experience internally with team members, because our residents were sensitive we had to ensure our prototypes were safe and secure. Key outcomes were:

  • Stronger haptic feedback

  • More sensitive activation

  • More stable prototype


An exceptionally engaging experience that even grabbed attention from staff and residents alike as I carried it around the campus.

It quickly became a core experience within the MCES and remains popular with the residents.

We're even working on making it a standalone product.

Accessible Haptic Feedback

I created a haptic footrest that let residents experience the texture, and haptic feedback in the MCES experiences via an easily accessible footrest.

  • Accessible by wheelchair using residents (majority)

  • Easy to implement

  • Strongly effective

  • Immediate mainstay of the MCES

The station with the original haptic feedback platform under the chair
A resident using the new version of the haptic feedback platform
  • Back side of the original haptic platform
  • Using the small LFE on a foot rest
  • Large LFE for reference
  • The large LFE attached to the new footrest


A key finding was the effectiveness of haptic feedback and it's ease of implementation.

At the time, Scott Minneman had created a haptic platform for the residents. But it was inaccessible for wheelchair users (most of our residents).

I took the existing concept and turned it into a more accessible footrest form factor, while retaining the haptic sensation felt by residents


I tested the footrest with a resident, alongside a driving experience so they could feel the roar of the engine and texture of the road. Key outomes were:

  • Stronger haptic feedback

  • Simplified wiring

  • Limit movement

This testing session genuinely completely changed my perspective as a designer, the story is wild.


An immediate mainstay for the MCES that is used as an integral part of every booked session. The form factor made it easy to implement and accessible by all residents.

This prototype was so much fun to use, I kept one for myself and continue to use it for games and entertainment, it just works with anything.


I explored a ton of different concepts in the pursuit of identifying engaging experiences. Including:

  • Motion controlled video games

  • Driving simulations with force and haptic feedback

  • Interactive music experiences

  • Apparatus that enables eye contact in video calls

Digital Content Library

With more residents becoming regular users of the system, they needed a system that could track their interests and provide a personalized experience.

Maria Mortati had consulted a group of students from CCAs MDes program to design the first iteration and lay the foundations for this part of the project. I built off their work to create a simplified IA, design system, and set of screens ready for dev handoff.

Digital Content Library

My contribution

  • Set the design system

  • Simplified Information Architecture

  • Redesigned UI for consistency and usability

  • Documentation for dev handoff



I've always been a designer that loves to work in a hands-on capacity, screens, toys, games, physical form, all of it.

This was a unique chance to stretch all my skills and have the independence to create impactful experiences from scratch, as challenging as that was.

New Perspective

Older people are a severely underserved population, with or without Dementia.

This project changed my perspective as a designer to try to always consider the needs of marginalized populations, and not just the most common.