Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Architectural Technology | Construction Engineering | Urban, Community and Regional Planning
With people living longer lives, the population of elderly is increasing at significant rates. Currently 5.3 million suffer from Alzheimer’s in America and 35 million people worldwide. The disease is one that deteriorates brain cells which in turn affects everyday thinking, behavioral problems, and results in a reduced mastery of one’s environment. The current typology is one that has been designed along the same premises of medical institutions and hospitals. The configuration results in narrow corridors and confined, unlit spaces that lead to disorientation and fear—exacerbating both physical and mental symptoms of the disease.
In addition to memory, sensory losses have a major impact on those with the disease. Along with decreased smell and taste, hearing decreases significantly; this is an issue that has the ability to be facilitated by the physical environment. In addition, sixty percent of people with Alzheimer’s have a decline in one or more visual capacities such as motion, depth, color or contrast. Seeing that everyday spaces are primarily understood through visual cues, buildings often become illegible and under-stimulating to those affected by the disease, further intensifying the detrimental progression. Contrary to the other four senses, touch is the one sense that stays intact as one ages and is least impacted as the disease develops. The sense of touch is the most important means of communicating for older individuals and is therapeutic since older adults are often touch deprived.
Further regarding sensory deprivation, sunlight is a necessity that keeps circadian rhythms normalized. Accordingly, I selected a site in Allentown, located in Pennsylvania—the state with the third highest population of elderly. The city of Allentown receives the most number of days of sunlight per year for the state of Pennsylvania. In addition, the site is located in close proximity to numerous cultural institutions in which residents can easily engage. Numerous studies manifest that musical and art therapy have very positive effects on the disease and engage parts of the brain that remain undamaged long after the onset of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is categorized into eight stages, with stage one being the point of diagnosis and stage eight being most severe. At each of these stages, various architectural issues have the ability to tend to the medical necessities of a person’s health. At stages three and four—the mild to moderate period—people become socially withdrawn and depressed. A deficit in one’s personal history becomes apparent. At this stage, personalization and transformation of one’s environment helps them to achieve confidence and decrease agitation. The presence of social nodes to set up chance encounters is a crucial element to design. As one advances in later stages adequate amounts of sunlight are vital, one’s memory begins to fail, and the issue of wandering becomes a major issue. Materiality and tactility have the ability to act as a guide and stimulate the sensory impaired.
This Alzheimer’s facility that I have designed is one that uses the aforementioned architectural issues to design a space that can support healing or help to slow down mental and physical decline. By stimulating the senses within the built environment, architecture has the ability to support a patient’s needs and influence the physical and mental well-being of the resident.
Chin, Tracy, "Increasing Stimulation | Decreasing Progression: The Built Environment’s Impact on Alzheimer’s and Dementia" (2010). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 322.
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