Architect, Mind, and Memory: Design for Alzheimer's
McKeron, Maureen Ellen
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By the year 2029, America's entire baby boomer generation will be 65 years of age or older. An estimated 7.7 million people in the United States will be living with Alzheimer's disease, compared to the 5 million individuals afflicted today. The illness, which often begins with a failure to remember new information, can eventually result in a complete loss of the ability to communicate. Common symptoms of Alzheimer's include disorientation in relation to both space and time and disorganized thinking. Victims of Alzheimer's often require care beyond what some individuals and families can provide, and so many elderly people are relocated from their homes to long-term care facilities. Can these spaces be designed to respond to the cognitive challenges of Alzheimer's patients in a progressive way, providing not just a place of shelter, but a home that is sensitive to the processes of human memory? Advances in the field of neuroscience provide new insight into the workings of the human mind. Scientists investigate how the brain reacts to sensations of light, visual cues, sounds, smells, and the varying scales of space. Theories about how humans cognitively map their surroundings reveal the importance of the built environment in daily activities and overall mental health. A growing understanding of these issues in relation to Alzheimer's suggests that the built environment, while certainly not a remedy, can be more helpful and attentive to the specific obstacles of dementia. This thesis will address the issue of Alzheimer's and the built environment through the design of a small-scale residential facility. Given the disease's prevalence and the growing elderly population, senior care centers are needed in all places, and this project will focus on senior care in an urban setting. It is hypothesized that the city will offer services and cultural stimulation that will help preserve each resident's quality of life for as long as possible. The architecture of the space will be centered on ideas and research regarding sensory experience, memory, and the human mind, relating specifically to Alzheimer's. This integrated exploration of the fields of neuroscience and architecture will strive to create a physical environment more attuned to the human experience.