How home design can help Alzheimer’s patients feel safe and secure, comfortable and in control | Designers Today

2022-08-13 03:13:35 By : Ms. Cathy Chi

The AFA's model apartment for people with Alzheimer's includes a smart refrigerator and an electric stove with burner cover.

Getting a diagnosis of dementia is scary enough, but how people can live in a home that addresses their disease was the subject of a recent event from the International Furnishings and Design Association.

IFDA NY members met at the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offices in New York to hear about and tour the Apartment, a 600-square foot model studio apartment where every item was carefully considered to address Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. The space was designed by Rosemary Bakker.

As more than 47 million people worldwide currently have dementia – a number that is expected to grow to 135 million by 2050 – the AFA felt it necessary to create a space to showcase the features and types of products to help this group. That included high-tech items, such as a smart refrigerator, to low-tech ones, including the fire suppressors that adhere to the range hood.

The apartment includes an adjustable bed and a motion chair that self-locks when the person stands to lessen the chance of falling.

With the apartment, the AFA wanted to demonstrate how someone with Alzheimer’s can have a comfortable, secure, and safe environment – and stay in their home for as long as possible, said Jennifer Reeder, the AFA’s director of educational and social services. The proper home design can also reduce stress, which “can help not only the individual but the caregivers, too,” she said. “The world can seem like an incredibly terrifying place if you’re not able to grasp what’s going on around you.”

It’s also good to remember that “this person is an accomplished adult, not a child,” and should be treated as such, Reeder added.

With many types of dementia – Alzheimer’s being the most common – it’s important to realize that every person is unique, and sometimes what works for one patient, won’t for another, Reeder said.

The apartment’s front door is festooned with a red wreath. Inside, the dresser drawers are labeled

“A person is more than their diagnosis. We always need to focus on strengths, rather than dwelling on deficiencies,” she said. “What can the person can still do and how can we enhance that – versus focusing on what the person can’t do anymore.”

The features for AFA’s apartment start right at the front door with a red wreath, which helps people identify their home. In the kitchen space, the smart refrigerator enables caregivers to see what’s inside through an app, as well as display notes and reminders. The microwave has a maximum time limit, so it can’t be accidentally programmed for 30 hours, for example.

When deciding on what type of cooktop to use, Bakker decided to go with electric instead of induction. While induction is very safe, it’s not something people are always familiar with, and it requires special wiring and cookware, she said. Instead of electric coils, the stove has electric smart burners, which have technology to prevent reaching temperatures at which most cooking oils can ignite. Also, a lightweight aluminum stove cover hides the burners when they are not in use.

Tabletop items include an elevated plate to help with eating as well as neck issues, and weighted silverware, for people who have tremors.

Lighting throughout the apartment is glare-free and operate with a circadian rhythm to mimic natural night-day patterns. Battery-operated floor-level night lights in the bedroom and bathroom turn on automatically in the dark to help prevent falls.

The bathroom area includes a comfort-height toilet (17 inches from the floor as opposed to 15 inches for a standard toilet) to help someone with mobility issues to sit and stand. The sink and medicine cabinet are both accessible whether someone is sitting or standing. The sink, like other items throughout the apartment, has curved edges to avoid bumping and bruising. And the grab bar in the shower is angled, as that is easier for people who are taking a seated shower, Bakker said.

The bathroom includes an angled grab bar, which is easier to grab during a seated shower.

People with Alzheimer’s may also experience changes with their senses, and the AFA offers a handout that provides tips. For example, they may have problems interpreting images, so using contrasting colors and prints helps them distinguish between surfaces. The change does not reflect poor eyesight, but is caused by dementia itself, the AFA emphasized. The person may also have difficulty with processing sounds, so background noise should be minimized.

The AFA’s apartment also has a few places where items were labeled with images – such as dresser drawers that illustrate what’s inside. Bakker said some people with Alzheimer’s respond better with images, others with words. She also added that sometimes even the bathroom door should be labeled, so the person is not confused if there are multiple doors in a hallway.

The bathroom sink has rounded edges for safety, and the phone is labeled with loved ones’ images.

Other resources from the AFA include a guide that gets into the apartment’s details room by room and includes the products used in the home. The AFA is already working on its next model project – a space in Babylon on Long Island that will mimic a ranch house.

Reeder also added that people may contact her if they want a tour themselves or to schedule an event.

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Andrea is passionate about home design, and has covered the home furnishings industry for most of her journalism career. She is the Executive Editor, Design, of Designers Today; in addition, she also serves as the Managing Editor of HFN and Lighting Editor for Home Accents Today. Andrea lives in beautiful Brooklyn, where she could very well be the only person without a tattoo.

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