How subtle, clever architectural decisions can help people living with dementia.

Sit down, close your eyes, and try to remember how you got to where you are.

How easy is it for you to visualize the path you took today? How did you remember where to go? Maybe you know to always turn at an important landmark — the tree your mom planted, for example. Maybe there was a sign telling you the right direction.


Photo from iStock.

For people living with dementia, these navigational clues can be hard to read.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, about 5 million Americans live with some form of dementia. Dementia isn't a single disease — rather, it's a broad category of cognitive and neurological symptoms. The most common cause of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, but there are many others, including strokes or Parkinson's disease.

Dementia can interfere with many of the brain's mental processes, including spatial memory — the part of the brain that deals with navigation. This is why many people living with dementia may sometimes find it hard to get around, even in familiar places.

Part of our ability to navigate lies in the hippocampus; dementia can interfere with processes in this region. Image from Henry Gray/Wikimedia Commons.

Getting lost can be especially dangerous for people who live with advanced forms of dementia — it can mean forgetting how to get home and being exposed to the cold or rain or running into dangerous situations like wandering across a highway.

A possible solution for this problem lies in the designs of the very buildings we live in.

Woodside Place is an assisted-living community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that was built by Presbyterian SeniorCare in 1991.


Photo by Presbyterian SeniorCare, used with permission.

Though not as common today, in the 1980s, many facilities used physical or chemical restraints to prevent their residents from moving around.

Woodside, on the other hand, was specifically built and decorated to accommodate the natural wandering tendencies of people living with dementia.

Clever design decisions — like the use of color — help reinforce and strengthen the residents' spatial memory.

Many care spaces are designed like hospitals, fairly sterile and visually repetitive, white hallway after white hallway. By making the space more colorful, Woodside provides a quick intuitive reminder for residents to identify where they are.


Photo by Presbyterian SeniorCare, used with permission.

At Woodside, even the staff's uniforms are color-coded based on which wing they work in.

"[Patients] may not remember my name, but they remember she's green, she belongs to me," Carrie Chiusano, executive director of Presbyterian SeniorCare's dementia care center, explained.

Staff uniforms are color-coded. Photo by Presbyterian SeniorCare, used with permission.

Another strategy Woodside uses is to have decorations and signs that are meaningful and packed with emotional relevance.

Outside Woodside's green treehouse-themed wing is a large tree decoration. These cueing devices are more than just props; they serve as subtle visual reminders and landmarks for residents.

Woodside has also invested in signs and decorations that have personal significance to the residents. For example, many residents have decorated their doors and living spaces with photographs of themselves, family, and friends, so that they can more easily identify which room is theirs.

This can apply to more than just personal pictures; it can apply to meaningful symbols as well. Mary O'Malley, a Ph.D. student at Bournemouth University in England, told Upworthy of a care facility she visited where one area was decorated with generic pictures of water lilies and another was decorated with a painting of the city's history.

Water lilies vs. New York City. Which means more to you? Images from iStock.

Though the lilies were very pretty, O'Malley said the residents' emotional connection with their home city ultimately seemed to be a more useful navigation tool.

Researchers like O'Malley are constantly looking for ways to design living spaces specifically for people living with dementia.

Along with her supervisors, O'Malley is studying how people learn and remember routes and directions. She's taking a multidisciplinary approach, using psychology, neuroscience, sociology, and perhaps most importantly, direct conversations and feedback from people living with dementia.

Mary O'Malley conducting research at Bournemouth University. Photo from Philip Hartley/Bournemouth University.

O'Malley is interested in what type of spatial memory is most susceptible to memory loss.

For instance, we know that most older adults seem to work better with landmarks ("head toward the church") rather than plain directions ("turn right at the church"). O'Malley wants to see if this pattern holds true in people living with dementia as well. She's also studying the way our brains read maps to see if maps can be more user-friendly.

As we learn more about these designs, we can incorporate them not just into care facilities and hospitals, but into community spaces too.

While care facilities can be designed for residents with specific needs, it's estimated that about 60% of people living with Alzheimer's live within the larger community, rather than in assisted-living facilities.

"If you want to support people so that they remain in the community, then you should be making these changes to the community," O'Malley said.

These design decisions, such as the use of visual reinforcement and meaningful decoration, could be easily incorporated into the spaces we see around us every day. Next time you find yourself stuck trying to navigate, think about all the little visual cues you take for granted and how easy it would be to make them better for everyone.

Family

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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