At the launch of our new design competition MedTechSouthEast, we spoke to Ben Davies, Managing Director of RODD/, about how he developed an innovative device to help stimulate appetite in people with dementia with the help of Design Council mentors.

Our new MedTechSouthEast programme gives innovators and entrepreneurs a chance to develop their new medical technologies on an intensive coaching course, led by design experts and medtech industry leaders. 

Over the last decade, Design Council has worked with universities, research bodies and tech startups to develop exciting medtech solutions for key health and social challenges. One real success story is ode, a fragrance product designed to stimulate appetite in people with dementia.

We caught up with Ben Davies, Managing Director of RODD/ and ode co-founder, to discuss ode, how design can help independent living and the new MedTechSouthEast programme.

Ben explained one of the challenges people with dementia face: “Weight-loss is very common amongst people living with dementia, beyond the cognitive and physical issues associated with the disease. Loneliness and disconnection with food, often as a result of living alone or in care, means malnutrition currently costs the NHS around £13bn a year.”

“ode is a design-led joint venture between RODD/ and Lizzie Ostrom, which we developed under the mentorship of Design Council’s Living Well with Dementia design challenge, which addressed issues around independent and assisted living.”

Design Council is working really hard to glue together UK innovation, the design community and funding streams – without them ode simply would not have happened.

Ben Davies, Managing Director, RODD/

ode releases three highly authentic food fragrances into living spaces to coincide with meal times. By combining the sensory stimulation of fragrance with a sensitively designed product, it offers a discreet reminder of mealtimes throughout the day.

Ben explained the thinking behind the product: “Smell is unique among our senses. It is the only one directly connected to the brain’s limbic system and in particular the amygdala – the part associated with emotional response and memory. This is why aromas can be so evocative, and can prompt certain moods or behavioural responses.

“As we encounter smells for the first time we link them to moments, to people or to things, so that when we smell that aroma again, the brain makes a fast association. In this way, ode’s sensorial prompt is passive and pleasing, rather than obtrusive.”

As an assisted living product, ode supports carers and forms part of a framework that aims to maintain independence and dignity for people with dementia, whether living at home or in care. It is also very effective. In trials, 52% of participants gained an average of 2kg in the 11 weeks after Ode was installed, and it is now a limited company selling in the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Australia and Japan.

During the new MedTechSouthEast accelerator process, a selection of Design Council’s expert Design Associates will lead the successful applicants through the process of developing a market-ready product, giving them unparalleled access to industry, skills, knowledge and experience.

Davies said: “Design Council is working really hard to glue together UK innovation, the design community and funding streams – without them ode simply would not have happened. If they can replicate the success of Living Well with Dementia with the MedTechSouthEast programme then something really exciting is going to happen.”

Online entry for MedTechSouthEast is now open and closes at midday, Friday 23 October. Entries will be processed and judged by a team of design and medtech industry experts. Fifteen selected finalists will then present their technologies at a pitching event to industry leaders, investors and potential commercial partners.

The winning ten individuals or teams at this event will then develop their product at an intensive two-day workshop followed by a ten-week hands-on accelerator coaching programme.

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