Dementia Home Design App

A few days ago, I came across a Buzzfeed article about a home design app developed by Alzheimer’s Australia. It makes small and cheap suggestions on how to change the living environment to be more friendly to people with dementia. Imagine if we could implement some of these design factors immediately!

Dementia Home Safety App

It ties into another topic of discussion. The train station projects continues at PhilaU. As part of the collaborative process, we invited the interior design and architecture students to a Disability Awareness Day. They were able to experience simulations of common conditions they should keep in mind when designing environments. The OT students had the opportunity to explain the role of OT in home design and modifications, and relate the symptoms of their chosen condition to the ability to function within a space. It was a huge success from all accounts. Many design students expressed surprise at the difficulties faced on a daily basis by people with disabilities and how the environment can be an inhibitor as much as a facilitator. Understandably, the simulations using walkers and wheelchairs were most surprising for them. However, many were also surprised at the difficulties surrounded low vision, stroke related vision impairments, and the amount of pain that comes with arthritis.

My students who were running the walker simulation and the low vision simulations also discussed the principles present on the home safety app. Specifically, the use of patterns and colors and how people with dementia process changes in flooring, be it colors, patterns, or transitioning between types, were of great interest and surprise to the design students.

The best line I saw on the feedback forms from design said [she] didn’t know how they ever designed without this knowledge. My students also expressed surprise at how easily our disciplines align.


Train Station Project

Earlier last month, I was given the opportunity to join the faculty at Philadelphia University. What makes this appointment special and relevant to this blog is the emphasis Philadelphia University places on interprofessional collaboration among both faculty and students. As part of my program development course, I have a  group of OT students who will be collaborating with the architecture students, the local transit authority (SEPTA), and the community in the redesign of a local train station.

While this is not home design nor aging in place, it is a unique collaborative experience and warrants mention on this forum. The goal is to create an iconic, community oriented train station that is accessible to all. Already we have had two meetings, and the amount of  collaboration has been impressive. What I feel will make this project so successful follows some theories surrounding group dynamics.

First, we have a concrete project in which everyone has some level of investment. SEPTA wishes to increase their ridership and make it possible for everyone to access and utilize the local rail station. The community members also want to make their train station easier to use while also hoping for it to be the gateway to the community. This is the local train station for both groups of students, and all students are interested in improving the station. My students, in particular, chose to do this project versus other options out of interest in the process. This mutual investment provides a solid foundation for team formation.

Second, as I saw during our first community meeting  with all the team players last night, there is a respect for the viewpoints of others. Everyone’s opinions were heard and considered. Several people approached others of the various groups after the meeting for continued discussions. I often feel a lack of  openness and respect for others causes the most rife in a team.

I will continue to post about our progress and the experiences of developing an interprofessional team as the project continues this semester. I would also be interested to hear about your own experiences.

Tiny Town

It seems that tiny homes are becoming a movement, all with the aim of living simply and cheaply. Arguably, one of the best features is the focus on sustainability with many of these tiny houses. I like the idea of them being small and manageable from the standpoint of maintaining a home, and feel, if designed properly with aging in mind, they could be an interesting solution to people wanting to move into smaller dwellings as they age. Of course, I worry about the space that would be needed for wheelchairs and walkers in key spaces, such as the kitchen and bathroom. Does anyone have a solution or idea in regards to this?

I came across this story about four couples who have been best friends for a long time. They have created their own tiny town where they can live together in these tiny houses. The idea of community appeals to me, since social isolation can be a very large problem for older adults aging in the community, and is considered a serious health hazard. What is your opinion on the tiny house movement and especially for older adults?

Granny Pods

I came across this article a few days ago, discussing the use of “granny pods” as a way to keep older adults out of facilities but near family. These cottages are designed for older adults, with grab bars, and softer flooring in case of falls. They also have a smart house component with sensors and cameras to monitor various health metrics, like vitals, weight, and blood pressure. Depending on zoning rules, the pods are connected into pre-existing gas, sewage, and power lines.

It is an interesting concept. To be able to have your own space in the backyard of your children or caregiver that is truly separate from the rest of the house could provide a sense of independence that a mother in law suite may not provide. The article discusses how some see it has warehousing seniors, but the description already sounds safer than some senior living buildings I have been in! I would be curious to see the inside design and if other features related to aging in place are present, especially in the kitchen area.

What is your take on the “granny pod” concept?

European Light Switches

I just came home from a trip to Hungary. My family always jokes about the tiny “Euro-vators,” and as an OT, I often wonder how people manage these smaller, and by our standards, inaccessible areas.

However, I noticed the light switches in our short term stay apartment one night. I had my arms full of luggage and groceries and realized I was hitting the light switches with just the side of my body. Eventually, I was able to take a closer look at them.

light switch

These are amazing. They are large, and require very little effort to activate in either direction. I used my finger, palm of my hand, elbow, and even just the side of my body to flip the switch. This makes it useful for people who have arm and hand weakness or paralysis.  The other detail I appreciated is the icon in the bottom right hand corner indicating whether the switch was the light or the doorbell. I could see this being useful in my assisted living buildings, where we end up putting tape over the light switch that controls the electric outlets to differentiate it from the switch that controls the overhead light. If the icon was larger, it would be easier for those with low vision to see.

I saw this design everywhere we went in Hungary and Serbia.

What do you think of the European light switches?

Environments for People with Dementia

As an AOTA Emerging Leader, I have been completing work with the AOTA focusing on home modifications. My mentor recently sent me this link to an Australian organization. They compiled an excellent resource on home modifications and considerations for people with dementia.

Each room of the house is highlighted with various principles, ranging from the physical construction of the room to the color/pattern choice in the furnishings and decorations.

In my practice, I often work with older adults who have dementia and are living with a caregiver. Many people attempt to remain at home, though I also work with this population in facilities. I have seen a wide variety of decor and room arrangements in lock down memory units that can be confusing for people. Busy patterned carpets are a common issue. One building does take advantage of the inability to process visual information properly by hiding the code out of the unit in a picture that is darkly colored and busy in design! As an OT, I look at the environment to reduce a risk of falls and attempt to manage behavioral symptoms, especially agitation, which can occur when someone has difficulty understanding the world around them.

What do you take into consideration when designing environments for adults with dementia?

“Living and Dying At Home” – The Atlantic

I came across this article today on Yahoo!News. It talks about an alternate living environment for older adults, and some innovative communities in Boston that allow for people to stay at home or in a facility they can afford that allows them more dignity and independence than a nursing home. It is an interesting model and read.

What stands out particularly to me is the emphasis on community. A lack of community is a common theme I hear among my patients. Just the other day, a 92 year old I work with wants to move into a facility so she doesn’t have to care for her home anymore, but does not want to be around “those people I don’t know.” She also was lamenting a lack of reliable help from the local NORC and people she tries to hire in her current home. But a model as outlined in this article with a reliable and steady stream of volunteers and fellow aging neighbors to look out for each other would allow for people to feel independent and safe.

Now we just need to make sure their homes are safe enough to stay in as well!

Feel free to share your impressions of the article in the comment section!