Sha Yao shares her personal story and connection to Alzheimer’s disease with us, and also writes about why she was inspired to create dishware for dementia. Learn more about her incredible tribute and story.
When I was little, my grandmother took care of my sister and I while my parents were at work. I had a great relationship with my grandmother, and I miss her smiles, hugs and of course her cooking, every day.
I was born and raised in Taiwan, but when my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I was already set to leave my home to attend graduate school in the U.S.
I spent my last year in Taiwan caring for my grandmother, watching helplessly as she gradually lost the ability to take care of herself. I felt so frustrated, feeling like there was very little I could do to help her. I was determined to improve her quality of life.
I started by trying to learn as much as I could about the condition, and I found some things that I wanted to share with other caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s. Many caregivers already know that malnutrition is a common issue facing those with the disease. Poor nutrition related to Alzheimer’s may be attributed to different reasons, such as a diminished sense of hunger and thirst, problems using utensils, inability to self-feed, or depression. What may be news to some, is that this is something that can be addressed.
During my time researching the disease, I came across a study conducted by researchers at Boston University that found that using brightly colored crockery increased the amount of food and drink people with Alzheimer’s consumed by 24% and 84%, respectively. It was then that I realized that simple changes could make a huge difference.
In the U.S., I attended graduate school for industrial design, but I never lost sight of my goal to help my grandmother. I began volunteering at senior care centers and talking to professional caregivers to learn about other issues that concern people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. For instance, issues like the loss of depth perception that often lead to tipped cups and spilled drinks, or how design patterns in flatware can be confused for food by people with Alzheimer’s.
I began brainstorming ways to design around these challenges, and after many mock ups, revisions, and models, I presented a 9piece assistive tableware set for people with cognitive impairment as my senior thesis. I have continued to refine my design over the past two years since I completed my graduate program, and earlier this year, my design won first place at the 2014 Stanford Design Challenge.
I often think back to the last time I saw my grandmother. Boarding the plane to come to America was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
I promised my grandmother that I would come up with a way to help her, and she promised me that she would wait for me to come back. She passed away in 2012, and I never got to show her the tableware set she inspired. I’m determined now to help everyone facing the same challenges as my grandmother did, as a dedication to her memory.
I launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo in October, to raise funds for manufacturing and future production. I hope to be able to provide these sets to the people who need them in early 2015.
I am a passionate Industrial Designer who likes to challenge myself. I have a diverse background includes a master’s degree in Industrial Design, a bachelor ‘s degree in Sociology, and a Bachelor’s degree in Japanese Language and Culture. I founded a product design studio that specializes in helping startup companies to develop their product ideas, and especially loves to create projects to help people in need.
If you would like to learn more about my story or the tableware I developed, please visit the website I created for my tableware set at: http://eatwellset.com, or to place pre-orders, please visit: http://bit.ly/eatwellset.
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