You are here

Research to Help Those Suffering from Dementia

Vancouver, June 24, 2010 - The results from the first phase of a ground-breaking research pilot project could help improve the dining experience and quality of life for seniors living with dementia.

Researchers at the Centre for Healthy Aging at Providence (CHAP) recently studied how the physical and social redesign of a care home’s dining area influenced the quality of the dining experience for the residents.

The changes included redesigning the common kitchen area and outdoor patio, installing subdued lighting to the dining area and enabling more one-on-one interactions for the residents as opposed to large groups of people talking and making noise.

The study included 77 hours of observing residents in the dining area both before and after the renovations, focus groups with staff and family members and a series of interviews with residents over the duration of the research.

The findings from the study revealed that great care had to be taken with the design of care environments. Planning must take into consideration the types of dementia residents have as it can greatly affect their interactions with people in these environments.

The study also demonstrated that the social environment was just as important as the physical environment in helping people with dementia, that dining was a social event that could greatly enhance the eating experience, and that people with dementia are aware of their surroundings.

“These findings are important in that they underscore the importance of understanding environments from the perspective of people who live and work in them” said Dr. Jean-Francois Kozak, the Research Director with CHAP and one of the researchers for this study. “People with dementia are aware of their environments; and who they are as persons, the nature of their disease, and the presence of others greatly determines how effective these environmental designs are.”

These and other results of the study are helping to develop guidelines for how dementia care units should be constructed. The researchers hope that the results of the study will be used by other organizations that treat seniors with dementia.

"The results of this study could be of great benefit to people with dementia living in care homes, helping them, for example, to maintain eating skills for longer and enjoy their food more," said Ann Corrigan, CEO of Tapestry Foundation for Health Care, the organization engaged in raising funds for this research. "By enhancing the dining experience, one can improve the enjoyment of food, promote independence of eating skills and greatly enhance the quality of life of both people with dementia and their care providers.”

Further dementia research is being planned that will explore whether the use of new audio-visual technology, namely flat screen TVs displaying captured video images of the outside world, can stimulate and maintain the spontaneous interests of seniors with high cognitive impairment.

A secondary goal of this upcoming research is to determine if such images can assist residents in their pacing and wandering around a special care unit by visually redirecting where they walk. The images displayed on the screens will vary by scene type (e.g. park, street etc,) as well as time (e.g. morning street scene changing to an evening street scene) to explore whether such changes can act as positive cues for residents (e.g. evening scenes reinforcing bed time).