Dementia can take away memories but it cannot take away my love. Love is a feeling that will live on in my heart and soul.
Dementia can take away memories but it cannot take away my love. Love is a feeling that will live on in my heart and soul.
We are told that we are a nation of couch potatoes, lacking the will and the strength to turn around the obesity tanker. We all need a little help in our quest for a healthier life and design can play a crucial part. If we designed our towns, cities, homes and workplaces more like animal experts design zoos, we could be one step nearer to reaching our fitness goals – as long as we can have some fun along the way.
It is reported that British people will be the fattest in Europe by 2025 and that if we want to reverse this we should have a healthier lifestyle by exercising more and eating less. But we are often made to feel guilty for not sticking to theses healthy lifestyle plans. I would suggest that before we start blaming people for adopting sedentary lifestyles, we should be taking a step back to look at the design of the environments, towns and cities in which we live.
The link between the design of the built and natural environment and its role in our health and well-being has been well explored. Now new research, led by Lancaster University, on “design for health” suggests that the environment, including buildings, cities, urban spaces and transport infrastructure, is closely linked to the lifestyles we adopt.
What is abundantly clear is that, as we shape our environment, it is also shaping us. Our psychological, physiological and physical status as well as our interactions with other people and with the natural environment are all affected. A key challenge that governments and policy makers worldwide are facing is how our built environment and infrastructure should be shaped to support healthier behaviours to prevent disease.
First, we should stop focusing on methods that tell people what to (or not to) do and which attempt to change their behaviour simply through media campaigns and punitive measures, such as tax schemes. While seeking to minimise the barriers that prevent healthy behaviours, we should make sure that the design of new environments is taken into account.
A good model would be to look at how zoos are designed. Before a zoo is built, it is common practice for zoologists, biologists, animal psychologists, nutritionists, architects, designers and landscape architects to work closely together to create an environment that optimises the living conditions for the animals.
Important environmental elements, such as vegetation, habitat, lighting, materials and each animal’s requirements are taken into account. The ultimate aim is to design an environment that fully supports the animals’ physical, psychological and social well-being. Ironically, we do not seem to make the same demands when a town, neighbourhood or workplace environment for humans is planned and designed.
Another opportunity that has recently emerged is the healthy new town NHS initiative. The aim is to radically rethink how we live and take an ambitious look at improving health through the built environment. Ten demonstrator towns will be built across England with community health and well-being as their main focus. Clinicians, designers and technology experts will reimagine how healthcare can be delivered in these places. Although this is a step in the right direction, what it is currently missing is the more holistic approach we have seen in the design of the zoos.
A crucial element in designing these towns so they are places that people would want to live in, is to include community members in their creation. This strategy would help design-in health-promoting behaviours, such as access to healthy food outlets or green spaces in which people can walk and exercise.
Playful design – the mapping of playful experiences from games and toys to other non-game contexts – can play an important role here in inviting and encouraging people towards healthier alternatives. For example, the piano stairs project in Stockholm, which converts the metro stairs into a giant functioning piano keyboard – much like the piano made famous in the Tom Hanks movie Big (1988) – demonstrates great promise. It encourages commuters to opt for the intriguing new stairway instead of the escalators to enjoy making musical movements as they go up and down.
A project in The Netherlands, meanwhile, illustrates how everyday street furniture, such as lampposts, benches and bollards, can be inexpensively converted into impromptu exercise devices, inviting people to engage in casual activity and socialise with their neighbours. We could therefore envisage several other contexts were playfulness can transform mundane everyday activities into fun ones that encourage people into a more active and social lifestyle.
We could convert building walls into activity walls to encourage stretching of arms and legs through touch; redesign public squares and walkways into interactive dance floors that invite movement and guide you through a city; and transform workplace spaces and public places into “playgrounds” that boost movement and productivity and decrease lethargy.
So there you have it. If we want to be a nation of lean, mean and healthy citizens we need to learn from zoos and the animals that live in them. And we need to embrace playfulness and enjoy the place where we live. That way, we can tackle life with a hop, skip and a jump.
A Concordia study sheds light on how language history relates to brain plasticity
February 6, 2018 | QUEBEC – Bilingualism could offset brain changes in Alzheimer’s
This care home has opened a ‘magical memory garden’, designed to rekindle the memories of those with dementia (SBS Australia).
AUGUST 24, 2017 | MICHIGAN – “Pop Drop” Study finds more ER visits & higher costs for older disabled patients with stressed caregivers
Emergency room staff call it a “pop drop” – when a disabled older person comes in for medical attention, but it seems like the person who takes care of them at home is also seeking a break from the demands of caregiving.
It’s been hard to actually study the phenomenon. A new University of Michigan study suggests that tired family caregivers are associated with greater ER visits and higher overall health care costs for the person they care for.
In a paper in the new issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the team reports their findings from a study of 3,101 couples over the age of 65, each with one spouse acting as caregiver for their disabled partner.
The researchers looked at the Medicare payments and emergency department visits for the disabled spouses in the six months after the caregiver spouses took standard tests to measure their fatigue, mood, sleep habits, health and happiness.
Even after they took into account many factors, the researchers found that in just those six months, emergency department visits were 23 percent higher among patients whose caregivers had scored high for fatigue or low on their own health status.
Patients with fatigued or sad caregivers also had higher Medicare costs in that same time period: $1,900 more if the caregiver scored high for fatigue, and $1,300 more if the caregiver scored high for sadness, even after all other factors were taken into account.
The cost of unpaid help
“Many of us who work in clinical settings feel that patients with high home caregiving needs, such as dementia, often rely on the medical system as a source of respite for their spouses or other caregivers, because other respite isn’t paid for,” says lead author Claire Ankuda, M.D., M.P.H. “But there hasn’t been a lot of data about it, and only recently has our society been talking about caregivers and potential ways to incentivize and support them as a way of keeping patients living at home.”
“Informal caregivers, including spouses, enable older adults with functional disability to stay out of the nursing home and live at home where they’d prefer to be,” says senior author Deborah Levine, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of internal medicine and neurology at U-M. “Our findings suggest that we need to do a better job of identifying and supporting caregivers experiencing distress, in order to help caregivers feel better and hopefully improve outcomes in older adults with disability.”
Long-term data gives key insights
The couples in the study were all taking part in the long-term Health and Retirement Study, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research on behalf of the National Institutes of Health. Ankuda, Levine and their colleagues probed HRS data because it allowed them to correct for factors that other, short-term studies can’t – such as the baseline level of Medicare costs, demographic differences including income and education, and even whether the couples have adult children living nearby.
The findings add hard new data about the link between caregivers’ own experiences and the amount the Medicare system pays to take care of those the caregivers take care of at home.
Nearly 15 million older adults get help with everyday activities from spouses and other family or friend caregivers. In the new study, the researchers included couples where one spouse got help from the other with activities such as bathing, dressing, walking, getting into or out of bed, shopping, cooking, and taking medications.
Helping with these tasks on a daily basis, without pay or respite, can take a toll on the caregiver’s own health, wellness and mental state – which can lead to burnout. Medicare does not offer payment or formal respite coverage for family or friends who take regular care of older adults – and only covers home care by certified agencies under certain circumstances.
More research & services needed
Ankuda notes that studies on the impact of supporting family caregivers more formally are just beginning to produce results.
Meanwhile, health policy researchers are beginning to suggest that it may make fiscal sense to incentivize home caregiving, to keep seniors from needing more expensive nursing home care.
“I definitely think there are specific services that could help caregivers, if we can identify those people who are highest risk and provide a basic level of support such as an around-the-clock geriatric care call line that could help caregivers feel less isolated and talk to a nurse about whether, for example, to go to the emergency department,” Ankuda says. “This is a high-cost, vulnerable population.”
Formal respite care, peer support groups and other options could also help stave off fatigue and sadness – and the hospital staff who notice “pop drop” practices could help steer caregivers to such options. So could the primary care clinicians who take care of both the disabled spouse and the caregiver.
Because the new study takes into account the level of Medicare spending for the disabled spouse in the six months before their caregiver was interviewed, it may actually underestimate the impact of caregiver fatigue, she notes.
Indeed, before the authors corrected for the full range of factors, they documented that Medicare costs were lower for patients whose spouse-caregivers who reported being happy or rested. They also saw higher costs among patients whose caregivers had higher depression scores on a standard mood questionnaire.
One factor that wasn’t associated with higher costs in the new study was the caregiver’s score on a standard measure of sleep habits. Sleep disruption is harder to quantify in older people, Ankuda notes. But the measurement of fatigue, which can result from both the strain of caregiving and poor sleep, was clearly associated with both higher rates of emergency department visits and higher overall costs.
The human rights watch has produced a report on the use of sedation in nursing homes. The report titled “they want docile” highlights the plight of people with dementia being chemically restraint through overmedication of antipsychotic drugs.
Too many times I’m given too many pills…. [Until they wear off], I can’t even talk. I have a thick tongue when they do that. I ask them not to [give me the antipsychotic drugs]. When I say that, they threaten to remove me from the [nursing] home. They get me so I can’t think. I don’t want anything to make me change the person I am.
—Walter L., an 81-year-old man given antipsychotic drugs in a Texas nursing facility, December 2016.
It used to be like a death prison here. We cut our antipsychotics in half in six months. Half our residents were on antipsychotics. Only 10 percent of our residents have a mental illness.
—A director of nursing at a facility in Kansas that succeeded in reducing its rate of antipsychotic drug use, January 2017.
This was to describe the practice of groundlessly asserting that design solutions would change behaviour in a predictable and positive way.
It was a new phrase but the belief system behind it – that buildings shape behaviour – had allowed the heroes of architecture to make all kinds of outlandish claims.
Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian Renaissance-era architect, claimed in the 1400s that balanced classical forms would compel aggressive invaders to put down their arms and become civilians.
Frank Lloyd Wright, the US architect who designed one of the most famous buildings in America, Fallingwater, similarly believed appropriate architecture would save the US from corruption and turn people back to wholesome endeavours.
British author and thinker Ebenezer Howard believed companies would be more efficient if their employees lived in village-like garden communities.
Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier made claims about how his Villa Savoye building in France would heal the sick – and when it did just the opposite, he only avoided court because of the commencement of the second world war.
It took a long list of failures over the millennia before postmodern theorists took to critiquing architectural fantasy with malevolent vengeance. The high-point of this trend was the delight shared over the demolition of the famously dangerous and dysfunctional Pruitt-Igoe urban housing complex in St Louis in the US.
It was designed by architects George Hellmuth, Minoru Yamasaki and Joseph Leinweber to provide “community gathering spaces and safe, enclosed play yards.” By the 1960s, however, it was seen as a hotspot for crime and poverty and demolished in the 1970s.
The loss of faith in architecture’s power has been regrettable. Architects’ well-meant fantasies once routinely provided clients with hope and sometimes even with results.
Without this promise, the profession was left inept before the better structural knowledge of engineers, the cumulative restrictions imposed by generations of planners, the calculations of project-managers and the expediency of a draughtsman’s CAD (computer-aided design) skills in turning a client’s every whim into reality.
Without fiction, architecture has become a soulless thing. But was determinism dismissed too soon? Is there a role for imagined futures without rationalist restrictions?
Just think of some of the ways architecture can manipulate your own experience. In his book, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, US author Charles Montgomery points out that some environments predictably affect our moods.
The fact is that environments do affect us, regardless of whether by design or by accident. In 2008, researchers in the UK found that a ten-minute walk down a South London main street increased psychotic symptoms significantly.
In my own research, I find that the healthier a person is, the more a good environment will affect them positively and the less a bad one will affect them negatively. Mentally ill patients show about 65 times more negative reactivity to bad environments than controls and all these reactions translate directly into symptoms.
The same patients have about half the positive responsiveness. That’s fewer smiles, less laughter and a reported drop in feeling the “fun of life”.
But that’s not all. The potential for architecture is richer still. The ease with which architecture can embrace sublime aesthetics makes it great for generating awe.
Psychiatrists have found that awe reduces the prevalence and severity of mood disorders. Could sublime architecture even potentially save lives?
The psychological effects of architecture are difficult to prove, but difficulty doesn’t dilute the value of a building that hits the right notes and creates a sense of awe. Each building type has different functions, and for each there’s an imperative to use the building to help create an optimal mood, desire or sense of coherence, security or meaning.
Most of these focus on health care design, because that’s where behavioural changes have life and death consequences.
But nobody dares make any promises. As such, research rarely opens the black box of environmental psychology, leaving findings unexplained and prone to failure.
To give architecture back its mojo, a new interest in how architecture changes us must be fostered. Clients have to learn to trust architects again and research funding bodies have to re-gear to encourage research into how buildings affect our mood, health and behaviours.
Finally, architecture schools have to teach students how they might predict psychological, emotional, healing and functional effects.
All innovation, ultimately, is led by the imagination – even if that means taking risks and sometimes getting it wrong.