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Daughter’s love of tech inspired by dad’s battle with dementia

By Tiril Syversen, Senior Analyst, Accenture Interactive, Oslo

Women extend their business skills beyond the workplace to make a difference around the world.

As a user experience designer, I love to see how great solutions can help change the world and make a difference in people’s lives. My work has a very personal side—my father has dementia, and I see how evolving technology can help people like him.

Growing up with four brothers made me rough around the edges and highly competitive, but it also taught me to be resourceful and innovative when trying to overcome obstacles. As I could not beat my older brothers when competing with them physically, I had to do it creatively.

My brothers and I all went to Waldorf School, where collaboration and creativity was encouraged. Our father, working as a carpenter, also taught us to use both our minds and hands when solving problems—an approach I often find highly transmissible to the work I do every day at global professional services company Accenture. Making your ideas tangible is a powerful tool dependent on strong communications. Sharing your ideas with others opens you to collaboration and innovation.

Our father was diagnosed with dementia at a relatively young age, while still in his early 50s. Dementia is a non-curable, vicious condition that makes him slowly fade away, depriving him of his ability to communicate. Dementia has caused severe damage to the parts of his brain that control his speech and his ability to understand language. Not being able to communicate while still conscious of his surroundings has made him distraught, depressed and lonely.

Watching my father struggle, while not being able to provide him with anything that could support him in his communication challenges, is one of the reasons I have become so passionate about technology and its potential to improve people´s quality of life.

Technology solutions to complex problems

I was recruited into Accenture two years ago, during my studies at the University of Oslo's Department of Informatics. My involvement in digital design services was a result of my interest in technology and a passion for aesthetics and simplicity. I was intrigued with the opportunity to work at the intersection between technology and design, where I get to apply creativity to help solve complex problems.

Tools that are able to learn from the user´s response and behavior open up endless possibilities in supporting people like my dad throughout the different stages of their diseases.

Emerging technologies, like artificial intelligence and machine learning, are providing much needed aids for people who are losing their communication abilities, whether it is from dementia or other cognitive disabilities. Tools that are able to learn from the user´s response and behavior open up endless possibilities in supporting people like my dad throughout the different stages of their diseases.

My father has now entered what most likely will be the last phase of dementia and, even though I do believe in miracles, the solutions that the future may offer will not be able to help him. My wish is that the evolving new technologies, those that already help doctors diagnose patients and help researchers find cures, will be able to provide invaluable support for dementia sufferers in the future.

At work, I have been given opportunities to share my thoughts on this subject and inspire people to think of technology as a humane way to address our greatest future challenges when it comes to health care. I spoke about this topic at the global digitalMe challenge at Accenture's DigitalWorld event in San Francisco, where I was awarded third place for an inspiring talk.

For designers like myself, artificial intelligence also brings an interesting shift in user experience design, moving from traditional graphical user interface (GUI) design to designing interfaces where the central aspects of the interaction are changed. This shift includes designing for voice interfaces, gesture-based applications and screen-less design. I find the possibilities this change brings highly motivating, and this is where I´ll continue to build skills for the future.