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Making a Positive Difference with Environments for the Aging Occupant

Today’s article targets getting you to think about environment and memory, particularly for the aging population. As you design buildings within which the aging live, do you take time within your design process to think about solutions that will help them with their “aging” brains — thus, assisting them with certain aspects of their lifestyle, like suddden confusion, a missplacing of the keys, or other distracted behaviors?

You have often heard me speak about narrative, and this is because it is an important tool for you as a designer to use in order to pick up on the nuances that make up the daily lives of your building occupants. By better understanding your occupant’s “story”, you are better able to design appropriate solutions that will make for maximum positive benefit in their lives.

And for the aging, an environment can make a positive difference when it is better organized, uses appropriate colors and materials, and provides for easy accessibility as aging building occupants move about to function within their space. But appropriate design for the aging should not stop there.

You see, as the brain ages, working memory begins to decline — that is, incidents of forgetfulness, confusion, or distracted attention become more prevalent. So, how can you as a designer create environments to combat this decline?

If you are designing environments in which the aging will live and function by engaging in their daily activities, you should take a close look at the narrative of their lifestyle. Take “snapshots” of a typical day, to better understand where their strengths and weaknesses are. Then, solve for the obstacles and constaints that show up. For instance, if they are involved with any type of medical regiment (or diet/exercise regiments for that matter), make sure to design a space not only within which such care can be practiced, but with which it is practiced.

Use your design to make their lives not only easier because of what they struggle to do, but also more enriched because of what they do well. Also, pay attention to the things they want to do, but have not been able to do for a while. Find ways to use the design of their environment to make possible what may not have been possible in their “other” space. You aren’t just designing a building, you are designing architecture that makes a positive difference.

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