The Orientation Experiences and Design Preferences of Residents Living in a Retirement Development

Authors: O'Malley, M., Innes, Muir, S. and Wiener, J.

Conference: Alzheimer’s Disease International


Background: Older adults and those experiencing dementia often experience marked deficits in their orientation and navigation abilities; this is reported in neuropsychological studies as well as through qualitative interviews, predominantly with the carers of those with dementia (Passini, 2000). However, in order to know how to adjust environments to compensate for decreasing orientation skills, voice must be given to older adults and those experiencing dementia to describe how they find their way and to hear their design preferences (Jonas-Simpson, 2003).

Aims: This study explores the navigational experiences older adults with memory difficulties encounter whilst living in a communal living environment. One key aim is to highlight common themes and patterns in participants’ experiences of orientation and design within their living environment.

Method: In-depth semi-structured interviews with older people experiencing memory difficulties were conducted.

All participants were residents of one retirement complex. Questions began broad (e.g. by asking them to describe their experiences of navigating in their living environment), before considering specific navigation difficulties.

Findings: A thematic analysis examined the self-reported issues surroundings residents’ reasons for experienced disorientation, the strategies used when orientating in the development, and their design preferences. The importance of having memorable spaces in the environment was present across all themes - this appeared to be preferred to than having signage as an orientation tool.

Conclusions: The findings highlight the need for more environments to consider their design in order to support those with memory difficulties. The implications of the findings are discussed in relation to existing dementia and navigation research as well as dementia (and age) friendly design guidelines.

Keywords: Dementia friendly design, Disorientation, Retirement complexes

Source: Manual