Aging in place design commonly accounts for a lot of the physical ailments of getting older, but they don't often account for mental ailments, like dementia. Alzheimer's Australia Vic, a regional organization of Alzheimer's Disease International, developed a new app to help designers and caregivers create a home environment that helps seniors manage the effects of dementia.

The Dementia-Friendly Home uses a 3D model home in which users can navigate through a floorplan. As users move through the rooms, little question marks pop up demonstrating one of ten principles of a dementia-friendly environment developed by researchers at Australia's University of Wollongong.

Alzheimer's Australia Vic

The principles were designed to make people understand all of the effects of dementia, not just the commonly known memory problems. People living with dementia also face spatial and visual problems.

"We made the app because a lot of people don't understand the principles of a dementia-friendly environment, and they don't realize that people living with dementia often have perceptual disturbances and its those disturbances that really can make living at home very difficult," says Maree McCabe, CEO of Alzheimer's Australia Vic.

When users enter the kitchen in the app, a question mark pops up on the stove where a tea kettle is boiling water. The first principle is to 'unobtrusively reduce risks.' The knobs to control the stove are on a back panel, near the wall, which is a hazard. Obvious safety hazards lead to frustration and agitation, write professors Richard Fleming and Kirsty Bennett. The app offers the solution to use a stove with the knobs placed at the front, where residents don't have to reach over boiling water to turn it off. It also recommends an induction cooktop, compared to a conventional gas stove with open flames, as a safer option for someone living with dementia.

Alzheimer's Australia Vic

Dementia also affects people's ability to filter stimulation, so the app suggests using high contrast but simple designs, such as pairing bland rooms with white walls or neutral carpeting with stronger, darker accents. However, it's important each room has a unique spacial cue, such as different colors or imagery. While designers should limit unhelpful stimulation, a specific cue helps people living with dementia to discern where they are.

Most of these environmental concepts are generally just good design concepts, using elements of universal design to make living environments easier for everyone. Only a few of the principles offered in the app are specific to the ailments of dementia, such as placing family photos in each room, labeling cabinets or drawers and using light switches with on and off labels. These design principles can help people living with dementia regain their confidence and remain engaged in their lifestyles longer.

The app is available for tablets in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for $2.99.


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