In the last 10 years, our population has changed dramatically. People are not only living longer, they’re living with more complex, chronic conditions like cancer and dementia.
Conditions like these can change everything. From the way a person thinks and feels, to the way they move, communicate and live. What’s more, these physical and mental changes are often worsened by an accompanying loss of dignity.
So how can research help people living with chronic conditions to live better? Lab4Living is a group of transdisciplinary researchers making powerful links between health and design.
Working collaboratively, we apply our research to develop innovative products and services that promote dignity, enhance quality of life — and have patient needs at their heart. Often, our work has a global reach.
Here are four projects that show the breadth and impact of our work.
There are around 5,000 people living with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in the UK, and around 1,100 people are diagnosed every year. This progressive disease causes the muscles to weaken, which in turn affects everyday life and wellbeing.
When the muscles in the neck are affected, this can result in head drop. And when a person cannot lift their head, it drastically reduces quality of life. As well as exacerbating problems with breathing and swallowing, it stops people with MND from doing the things they love. And while support devices can help, our research found that existing models were restrictive, uncomfortable and unappealing.
Working with patients, carers and clinicians, we developed a more user-friendly alternative. Head-Up is the first fully customisable neck support collar designed specifically for people with MND. It’s adjustable, flexible and breathable — and resembles a simple black polo neck, rather than a clunky medical device.
Wearers described the collar as life-changing. By providing support and freedom of movement, it allowed them to do things we take for granted, like driving, going to work and meeting friends. They also praised its non-stigmatising look and adaptable design.
In a study of 140 patients, Head-Up scored better than previous collars in terms of satisfaction, support level, head movement and appearance. It also made it easier for people with MND to eat, drink and swallow. As a result, the collar is now offered by 25 UK hospital trusts.
Head-Up has been licensed and manufactured by leading medical device supplier TalarMade, who’ve sold around 3,000 units in the UK. It’s also now available worldwide, meaning more people with MND can regain some independence and live happier, fuller lives.