Navigating the world around us is a task we all partake in regularly – the ability to naturally learn and remember spatial environments is critical to our everyday lives. In the signage industry, helping our clients to create easy to navigate spaces is something we are passionate about. The more technical term for this process is wayfinding, the process of ascertaining one’s position, then planning and following a route.
In the case of individuals with dementia, the ability to navigate through and successfully find one’s way from one place to another is often impaired (Caspi, 2014). The most common cause of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, affects over five million people in the United States. For these individuals, trouble wayfinding is an early symptom of their disease and immediately impacts quality of life (Chiu et al., 2004; delpolyi, Rankin, Mucke, Miller, & Gorno-Tempini, 2007).
Despite this well-studied link, residential environments for those with dementia are often especially difficult to navigate. Picture the quintessential assisted living residence, with its non-distinctive hallways and poorly differentiated routes. As we have all experienced, losing our way can be scary – in individuals with dementia there is added anxiety, distress and decreased desire for interaction. Without the ability to independently participate in wayfinding, those with dementia must rely on others to guide them from one place to another. This loss of independent function comes hand-in-hand with a loss of dignity and health.
Below are 4 areas in which creative and thoughtful signage can best support persons with dementia:
Built environments that lack distinctive landmarks and points of reference may be more difficult for older adults and those with dementia to find their way.
Color is a strong cue property for the identification and memory of environments.
Familiarity, in terms of meaning to the individual and the ability to easily identify the cue have been shown to help persons in wayfinding.
4. Visual cues:
Cues that grab the user’s attention and stand out from the surround. When placed at key decision points, these cues facilitate wayfinding.
The above signage cues aid with wayfinding both visually and cognitively. Visually, they attract attention and are more likely to be seen by the aging eye. Cognitively, they provide environmental support for encoding and memory retrieval (Craik & Jennings, 1992). Providing visual cues through signage may make environments more memorable – and thus to be more supportive of wayfinding – by using bold, colorful, meaningful and distinctive cues.
A supportive signage environment for persons with dementia is key for wayfinding success.