Alzheimer’s and dementia are growing on a scale that dwarfs the growth of the senior population. The number of people living with these conditions doubles every 5 years beyond age 65. This number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060. The memory impaired need a care environment that is designed to be supportive. First, their space must limit their mobility, ideally without making them aware of it. At certain stages of the disease, Alzheimer’s patients tend to wander, and need to be able to walk. The path can be circular, and can include noticeable landmarks for reassurance and recognition. Portions of their space can be outdoors, to give them contact with the outside world. Their accessible routes need to be evaluated from the aspect of wayfinding sight lines, so that visual encouragement is continually incorporated. It is important to offer a sequence that is memorable and encourages saccades that stimulate memory.
Landmarking can extend to their rooms and the immediate surroundings. While overstimulation needs to be avoided, a more visually active environment can enhance cognitive functionality. Familiarity is key; room entries can become recognizable with the use of residential memory boxes that display photos of loved ones and objects that prompt a response.
Classic movies, small towns, familiar music and images of musical performers can all contribute to a collection of images that both stimulate and reassure residents. For this to be successful, the design elements need to be incorporated early in the planning process, and become integral parts of the environment.
Cognitive capacity will always be a challenge for the memory-impaired. However, thoughtful design and creative thinking can ease the challenge somewhat, and offer comfort through salience for those that need it. As the aging population grows, the demand for this kind of approach will also grow, and appropriate application of environmental graphics can assist in making more effective and attractive spaces.