Architect plans for dementia sufferers with gaming

It is well known that our general day-to-day environment makes a fundamental difference to our overall well-being and happiness. But for people suffering from dementia, they face the additional challenge of being overloaded with sensory stimulation which can add to the distress they are already feeling.

But now an architect wants to tackle these challenges head-on by using gaming technology to take dementia sufferers on a 3D-tour around the building before it is actually made.

“It allows people with dementia issues to have an immersive experience of the new buildings so they can give feedback before these things are actually cemented in place,” Roger Maier, Director of CEAD Architects tells me over the phone from Newcastle, England. 

The devil lies in the detail and Maier says that these are often missed in the beginning stages of planning a care home and only talked about quite late in the process. He says it is difficult to understand how all these different elements might interact and sometimes they interact in a negative way.

“I’ve worked in the elderly care sector for a number of years and I suppose it was the disappointments of going into some care homes and just seeing the poor quality of environment that a lot of people are in - not very stimulating and very institutional. For a lot of people it’s the end of their life but their environments were not giving them a good quality end-of-life.”

Maier says that dementia sufferers will be able to immerse themselves in this 3D experience through tablets, on a website, or through a VR headset. They will be able to interact and manipulate the building as they are walking through it. So they will be able to change lighting, arrange fixtures, and move around carpets. And Maier will be bringing the technology to the care homes to keep the dementia patients in a state that is as “natural and comfortable” as possible.

What are some of the problems with dementia care homes today?

“One of the biggest issues is trying to create a non-institutional environment. If you follow all the guidance it can very easily lead to quite an institutional looking and feeling building. You end up with high colour contrast finishes,” Maier says. “For dementia sufferers they have quite a bit of difficulty adjusting to new things anyway and then for them to be in an environment that doesn’t seem like a home or isn’t connected to their idea of home that they had in their head – that can be quite distressing.”

What sort of things will you be testing?

“We will be testing things like colour schemes. Patterns can be extremely off-putting to dementia sufferers because sometimes they seem to give a false sense of perspective or they can be quite visually confusing,” Maier tells me. “So [the aim] is to try and find things that has a homely feel to it but is not going to cause disturbing side-effects.”

“Also lighting can play a huge role in people’s well-being. For example if you have daylight coming from one side, you can have really bad glare and that can affect the ability to perceive the environment accurately. Also, not just for dementia sufferers but elderly folks in general – they have deteriorating eyesight and the tint of their vision changes so colours can appear much darker - so you need more light to be able to perceive the same level of colour than the average person would.”

Could these findings be potentially useful for carers looking after dementia sufferers in their own homes already?

“Certainly some of the lessons can be learned in terms of the way people are responding to these environments and the active choices that they make. A lot of these environments are designed by design professionals and over time a best practice is developed almost as a short-hand and I think there may be an opportunity to challenge some of these assumptions.”


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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