Author: AD Gladu
Key Contributors: AD Gladu, Amanda Yates, April Neal, Diane Porthouse Lochner, Emily Howard, Melissa Rivera Torres, Josh Rodriguez, Steffaney Martin, Tiffany Rawson
What are Memory Disorders?
Dementia is the umbrella term under which all memory disorders—including the well-recognized Alzheimer’s disease—fall. It occurs when the loss of memory and abilities to communicate, learn, and reason are severe enough to interfere with daily life. According to the World Health Organization, around 50 million people have dementia.
Dementia disrupts executive functioning, which some people describe as the management system of the brain. For many, this disruption leads to:
- Difficulty in organizing, multitasking, and getting something started
- Communication challenges, including loss of verbal fluency
- Trouble processing, storing, and retrieving information
- Difficulty with abstract concepts
Given these symptoms, it is unsurprising that people with dementia often experience mood swings and a loss of interest in activities. But this is where we—as destination designers and operators—can make a difference!
What We Know: Orientation & Communication
For someone with memory loss, visiting new places can provoke anxiety, both for them and their caregivers. Everyone needs to feel safe. We can foster those feelings with identity/family locator programs and team training that encourages calm, steady communication with lots of reassuring smiles and eye-contact. As with other cognitive issues, individuals with dementia may become overwhelmed by crowds and fatigued by lines. Offering quiet spaces for retreat may extend their day of family fun.
What We Are Learning: Vision Changes
Vision changes with dementia are common and can affect every moment of a destination visit.
- Blurring of vision causes confusion and makes reading and wayfinding difficult.
- Pupils react slowly to light, requiring longer adjustment times to different light levels.
- Visual fields shrink, making objects “in plain sight” not visible until they are very close.
- Loss in peripheral vision leads to falls as people bump into unseen objects.
- Loss of depth perception is particularly dangerous around stairs.
Opportunities for Improvement
As destination designers and operators, we can create moments of joy for adults with dementia. We can build environments with the colors, sounds, and smells of yesteryear. Our dancers can perform the Lindy, our chefs can go retro with Liver Loaf, and our exhibits can encourage younger visitors to turn to their elders and ask questions.
Safety issues triggered by vision loss and impairments to executive functioning may be helped by elements of Empathic Design:
- increased lighting levels—especially at exhibits and experiences designed for their interests
- wide, unobstructed pathways with handrails
- clearly marked stairs
- bold wayfinding signs
- large print menus with pictures
- uncluttered paper maps with contrasting colors
Living with dementia is challenging, but a day out with family does not have to be. By mitigating the challenges before the guest even buys a ticket, we can offer families places to celebrate the past while living in the moment.
Want to learn more about designing for other cognitive disorders? Check out the links below for more information.
Alzheimer’s Association – https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia
Home Care Assistance – https://homecareassistance.com/e-books/dementia-care-guide/how-vision-changes-with-dementia
John Hopkins Medicine –https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org
University of California San Francisco – https://memory.ucsf.edu/symptoms/executive-functions
World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia