Milk cartons could help elderly live independent life


ELDERY people could be helped to live more independent lives thanks to milk cartons.

Design student Fiona Harper, 21, came up with the idea for ‘Reassure’ as a way of allowing people to live independently for longer whilst improving the care they receive in a non-intrusive way.

Designing the device was Fiona’s main Honours project, and the prototype is currently on display at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design (DJCAD)  Degree Show.

The ceramic milk cartons help keep track of elderly or vulnrable relatives

Reassure works by placing an electronic ceramic milk carton in the older relative’s fridge and an identical one in the family’s home.  When the older relative opens their fridge a signal is sent to the family home.

The family’s milk carton then lights up a particular colour, i.e. yellow for the 1st fridge opening, blue for the 2nd etc, allowing the family to judge their older relative’s mobility through colour change throughout the day.

Fiona, originally from Gretna, says she struck upon the idea of Reassure after researching demographics changes and the pressure this will place on resources.

“It seemed obvious that if you can allow people to live independently for as long as possible rather than going into care then you both increase the quality of their lives and reduce the burden on social services,” she said.

“One of the key things is ensuring that people are safe in their homes, and it is obviously a worry if people are at risk of falling or becoming ill. My product works simply by placing a bottle in the fridge of an older relative or a vulnerable person. Light changes tell you whether they have been active that day and provide peace of mind while being as non-intrusive as possible.

Colour changes let people know how active their relatives are

“A milk carton is such a familiar object, and takes up so little room that it was the perfect host for the device. Placing them in the fridge fits with people’s daily routines and this is a vital part of monitoring that all is well. The paired devices are reset at midnight, ready to start again the next day.

“Reassure works by light sensor. The prototype is fitted with an RF transmitter and receiver, and I have looked at developing a wi-fi version to increase the range. I would like to develop the product further, although I’m also considering moving into occupational therapy with a mind to enabling independence for elderly or vulnerable people.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have had experience of caring for vulnerable relatives and the feedback I received was very positive as they said this was something they could relate to and see the worth in.”

Reassure is one of almost 300 exhibits currently being shown at DJCAD, part of the University of Dundee. The 2012 DJCAD Degree Show is open from 19th-27th May.


More info about Fiona’s project, and a video of the device working, can be found at