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Dementia is a syndrome that has a number of causes, with Alzheimer's disease as the most common. It affects more than 40% of residents in assisted living communities (Caffrey et al., 2012; Zimmerman, Sloane, & Reed, 2014), and 61% of nursing home residents have moderate or severe cognitive impairment (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 2016). Characterized by difficulties with memory, communication and language, reasoning and judgement, and visual perception, dementia leads to compromised perception that makes it difficult for people to perform daily activities and engage with others.

Older persons living with dementia are particularly vulnerable to sensory deficits, further reducing their ability to interpret and manage the demands of their environment. Modifying and enriching this environment, using research-based art selection and installation, can help to create a place that supports activities and relationships, allowing them to maximize capabilities, maintain as much independence as possible, and boosts self-esteem.
By Recapturist
Vintage Bowl IV by Recapturist
As with every art solution there is no one-size-fits-all to creating one optimal environment to support persons with dementia, and every environment will be a compromise due to budget and other factors. However, there is consensus that the environment should meet the needs of individuals as far as possible and provide interesting and positive stimuli such as artwork. The following recommendations are possible art design approaches that can be tailored for individual projects according to type of facility, budget, and model of care.

Here are some suggestions of how to best utilize art programs to enrich physical spaces and provide positive engagement while facilitating and reinforcing design strategies and person-centered care models that aim to promote person-environment fit. 
By ooyoo
Colorful Cosmos Flowers Against Clear Blue Sky by ooyoo

“People with dementia are particularly affected by the acoustic environment. While people with dementia might have normal hearing, they can lose the ability to interpret what they hear accurately. As such, the amount, type and variety of noise a person with dementia is exposed to needs to be carefully regulated, as over or under exposure to noise can cause confusion, illusions, frustration and agitation” (Hayne and Fleming, 2014). 

One solution to consider is the use ofacoustic panels.Undesirable noises can be diminished using acoustic panels that provide both commercial-grade ambient and environment noise management, and act as an artistic focal point, optimizing the visual and aural impact.
By JackJM
Fall Color in the Park by JackJM

Loss of memory and spatial understanding by people living with dementia makes orientation a challenge. Wayfinding problems can cause anxiety, distress, and decreased interaction and are exacerbated by conditions like visual clutter and architectural monotony with a lack of reference points. Simplified environments that are free of clutter and have visual cues for orientation reduce stress and agitation, and support independence. Differentiation of spaces in meaningful ways, like theme and feel, further support people with dementia not only with wayfinding but also by enabling a recognition of which activities and social interactions take place within a particular space. 
By Kevin Schafer
By Try Media
Red Maple Leaves In Autumn, Maine, by Kevin Schafer   |   Single Bright Red Maple Leaf by Try Media

Artifacts, or objects not originally meant as artwork, in the care environment can invoke shared cultural information and experiences that are familiar to most people, and they can help create a specific atmosphere. Sculptural installations that draw upon and/or reference everyday objects can be used for both wayfinding and engagement. Artifacts offer the potential to think outside the box for the development of art installations, drawing more upon contemporary ideas about art beyond images.
by Midge Aylward
First Live Transatlantic TV by Midge Aylward
Memory Boards & Boxes

One of the most important places for people with dementia to be able to find is their bedroom. To assist them, facilities are increasingly looking to use memory boards and acrylic boxes as visual cues at entryways. As environmental fixtures, such pieces can feature artwork and design that supports wayfinding on a particular unit or floor while offering the ability for residents to personalize it. Personalization is particularly important for people with dementia because they may find it increasingly difficult to communicate their values, experiences, and accomplishments. 
By Ilyabolotov
Vinyl Records by Ilyabolotov
Sensory Art/Panels

Multi-sensory stimulation has become a means to engage people with dementia, and its introduction into care environments has been shown to improve mood and behavior (Baker et al, 2001). Designers specializing in dementia care suggest that multisensory design be considered in all areas of a residence. Multisensory driven artwork has tactile features, even if it’s not meant to be touched, as well as various optical qualities, like shiny or glimmering. The use of a substrate such as textured wall protection would be a means to create an engaging visual design with tactile elements.
By Cynthia Perdigao
Bursting by Cynthia Perdigao
Art Cards/Books

Images that can be held individually or bound in books can provide positive stimuli for people with dementia. Artwork that is less complex yet stimulating, simple sceneries that are recognizable and age appropriate can provide meaningful engagement. The images can be tied to the general environmental art program, while allowing residents active rather than passive engagement with artwork. In the case of art cards, each can be presented on substrates of different types and textures to provide multisensory stimulation, allowing them to be enjoyed by those individuals who are primarily at the sensory stage in the progression of their dementia.
by Diana Robinson
Yaquina Head Lighthouse Near Newport, Oregon by Diana Robinson
Our designers at Great American Art can help you develop an aesthetically appropriate, diverse art program that provides positive distractions, helps orientate people spatially and socially, and enhances beneficial environmental interventions that seek to provide the best conditions for people with dementia and those that care for them. 

Let’s discuss your project and how we can help you provide an engaging and supportive environment in any industry.


Jeelan Bilal-Gore
Director of Art