Fluid: An adaptive drinking aid
How might I design an accessible drinking aid that would adapt to a patient as they progressed through their illness?
Fluid is an adaptive drinking aid system for bedridden patients that uses form, materials, and accessories to ease the act of accessing water.
Access + Ability, 2018
Student Project Selection
What is Fluid?
The Fluid system consist of a vessel and various interchangeable accessories that are designed to adapt to different scenarios that may arise throughout an illness. Fluid is designed to ease the access to water during these transitions to help prevent dehydration and ease the reliance on the caregiver and provide the patient with more independence.
Flexible for Performance
The main vessel is made of a silicone part to help prevent leakage and enable it to be flexible, which assists in holding, especially for patients with a weak grasp. The wide and narrow shape of Fluid allows it to easily rest on the body of the patient and provides an area to firmly hold it with one or two hands. The long flexible straw features a silicone bite valve to help prevent leakage. By providing a flexible straw, it reduces the amount of forward "sitting up" movement the patient needs to do to access liquid.
Flexible for Different Scenarios
The removable plastic accessories are designed to be interchangeable with the 4 oz. and 8 oz. size main vessels. Each accessory is designed for a specific scenario that may arise as a patient progresses in his illness. The accessories featured include a tabletop holder for storage when not in use, a clip style for blankets or clothing, a holder for hanging on a hospital bed, and a handle style to turn Fluid into a cup with a handle.
How Did I Get Here?
01 Why this Problem?
The idea for designing an adaptive drinking aid comes from my personal experience when my family struggled to find a suitable drinking cup for my father when he was in home hospice care. Seeing the issues that came with trying to perform a basic need convinced me that there was a need to look at how the form of a drinking aid can be improved for a sick loved one.
02 Understanding the Problem
I began by performing literature reviews to gain an understanding of the relationship between dehydration and bedridden patients. When a bedridden patient becomes reliant on a caregiver for liquid intake, the possibility of dehydration becomes a very serious issue. Improper hydration can cause constipation and bedsores, compromise the immune system, and even lead to death. Proper hydration requires education of the patient and consistent monitoring by the caregiver. Beyond this, it can be extremely beneficial for patients to use a drinking aid to ease the action of drinking and provide them with an independent way to obtain liquids.
To help define which environment I would focus on, I defined the stakeholders within the two environments (a home, a healthcare facility) that would interact with a drinking aid. I decided to focus on the home environment because it is the space where it was most likely a non-professional, such as a family member, would be caring for a patient.
I looked at the different drinking aids currently on the market to understand the tactics currently being used to deal with different pain points that can occur, such as limited neck motion and tremors. I focused specifically on the ergonomic style because it is the drinking aid most recommended by hospice nurses.
Understanding the caregiver and patient experience
For this project, I was able to gain first-hand experience from observing my mother care for my father while he was in home hospice. I was able to speak to her about the difficulties that she experienced throughout the process. To gain a broader perspective on the different experiences caregivers and patients may go through, I utilized public patient and caregiver forums, as well as research papers that focused on the caregiver/patient relationship.
In addition, while visiting my father, I was able to observe the difficulties he had throughout the different stages of his illness. I observed, as he became weaker and easily exhausted, it was more difficult for him perform actions such as reaching for the cup on a table, holding the cup, and leaning forward to drink.
Based on my research, I decided to focus on a patient that was in the middle stages of their cancer illness, who would need assistance from the caregiver for certain activities, such as walking to the bathroom, but was not completely reliant on the caregiver. I developed personas and an experience map for the caregiver and patient illustrating a typical day. I focused on identifying the activities they would each perform, their thoughts, and mapping out their energy levels.
Based on my research I developed the following key insights, which informed my design principles.
The patient moves to different rooms multiple times a day requiring the caregiver to move the drinking aid as well.
The caregiver assists the patient during these room changes to make sure the patient does not fall so the caregiver will either:
Carry the drinking aid in one hand, which only leaves one hand for balance support for the patient, putting the patient at a greater risk of falling.
Leave the drinking aid and retrieve it after they have moved the patient, requiring the caregiver to do a lot of back and forth from room to room.
The patient wants to be as independent as possible.
The current drinking aids can leak and need to be placed on a table requiring the patient to reach and grab for it, which can be difficult for weak patients.
While the form of the current drinking aids contributed to the issues, I found that movement played a central role to the difficulties that drinking aids can present to patients and caregivers. This was because wherever a patient went the drinking aid would have to go as well. In addition, I found that movement played a central role in the day of a patient because it acted as a form of exercise for the patient, meaning that caregivers wanted the patient to move to different rooms. This presented an interesting relationship because movement was a positive thing for the patient and their health but it turned the caregiver into a babysitter to the drinking aid making sure it is in the right room.
Based on my research and key insights, I developed the following design principles that informed by concept development.
My design should be flexible and transition with the patient as their health degrades.
My design should provide independence to the patient.
My design should allow the patient to access liquid while in different positions (ex. sitting up, reclining, laying down, etc).
My design should be easy for the caregiver (or patient) to carry from one room to another.
03 Concept Development
Inspired by silicone baby bottles, I identified early on that silicone was a material I wanted to utilize in my design. I decided to use silicone because it is a malleable and flexible material which allows the user to grip it easily. With my material choice of exploration established, I perform form exploration through sketching and modeling. I focused on developing an ergonomic form that would easily rest in the hand, on a table, as well as against the body.
In addition to form exploration, I looked at developing the smaller details that would help prevent other issues, such as leakage. I explored how I could use the silicone material and vessel to act as a sealant to prevent leakage, as well as, alternatives to the traditional straw and spout typically used in current drinking aids.
04 Cooper Hewitt: Access + Ability
Student Design Showcase
This project was selected to be part of the Cooper Hewitt’s Student Design Showcase during their Access + Ability exhibition. My project was displayed in the museum and I was invited to present my work to a panel of inclusion and accessibility experts, including Margaret Price from Microsoft, Keira Hwynn, Elise Roy, and Walei Sabry.
05 Future Considerations
This personal project is an ongoing passion project for me. Next steps is to prototype using the correct materials (silicone) to user test and gain an understanding of the grip and feel when holding a more flexible version of the form. This user testing will further inform the design and scale of the silicone vessel, as well as the additional accessories, such as the hand handle accessory, so that they accommodate a range of hand sizes and grip strengths.