Dr. Hessam Ghamari, Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences/Interior Design (left) has been selected as the 2022-2023 Research Fellow for the College of Health and Human Development. Dr. Ghamari’s project Wandering Eyes? An Investigation of Wayfinding Behavior of Alzheimer’s Disease Patients in Care-Facilities, is underway, with the research support of student scholars.
Wandering Eyes? An Investigation of Wayfinding Behavior of Alzheimer’s Disease Patients in Care-Facilities
Improving the quality of life of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) patients through Therapeutic Environmental Design
With over fifteen years’ experience as an architect and interior designer in both the US and Iran, Family and Consumer Sciences/Interior Design faculty Hessam Ghamari' s design philosophy revolves around providing healthy and humanistic environments that can positively impact people and improve quality of life.
Most specifically with his fellowship year research, Ghamari will be exploring wayfinding solutions for people with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) through therapeutic environmental design.
We all unconsciously track landmarks in our environment every day, but when short-term memory is compromised, what registers as familiar one moment doesn’t always hold as a constant the next. What are the differences between the way a person with AD crosses a room versus someone whose memory is intact? Ghamari’s project will serve as a first attempt to examine eye-fixations of residents with AD during their navigation of nursing home facilities, with an eye toward identifying effective design interventions. The study will examine nursing home environments and the ways design-elements attract eye fixation during wayfinding, working with patients in the nursing homes in which they live.
The topic of wayfinding in healthcare environments has recently received attention, but there are only a few studies that have focused on dementia or residents with AD and the ways they navigate their environments. And though there is an increase in the body of research on the impact of the architectural designs of supportive environments and the ways design can improve the quality of life for residents with AD living in residential facilities, these studies, so far, have been limited.
The current literature shows that the effects of disorientation and navigation problems among nursing home residents who are in different stages of dementia is extremely critical, and can make wayfinding stressful at the very least, and at worst, impossible.
Ghamari will work with two undergraduate research assistants to integrate research and teaching in the project. The researchers will also measure the anxiety levels of the residents during their evaluations. The team will develop criteria that can assist design professionals and care providers in creating more navigable environments, thus bringing about an increased sense of orientation and overall well-being in daily functionality. When reference points, recognizable places, clear signage, and naming of rooms are brought into play and made part of the environment, they may assist AD patients to find certain destinations within their nursing homes.
In this way, Ghamari will be able to establish empirical data where there is currently little to none and begin to narrow this critical gap in the current research. Nursing home residents in advanced stages of dementia can find certain destinations within their nursing homes if the environment encompasses supportive design features such as easy-to-understand reference points, recognizable places, clear signage, and naming of rooms.
Ghamari’s research in healthcare design is crucial for creating therapeutic environments that can improve health and well-being. It can also prepare students with broader skill sets so that when it comes to their own designs, they can tackle problems and address decision making with regard to human beings’ health and well-being.
Further information on AD:
Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a devastating condition for those afflicted and affects family members and caregivers. Approximately 5.2 million Americans had been diagnosed with AD in 2015. AD is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., killing almost 500,000 people a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ranked AD as the sixth leading cause of death in the US and the fifth leading cause of death for those aged 65 and older. Despite declining mortality trends for major diseases such as HIV, stroke, heart disease, prostate cancer, and breast cancer, AD is still among the top 10 causes of death with very limited ways to prevent, cure or manage living with the disease. Challenging behaviors associated with cognitive deficits in residents with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) often turn unmanageable at home and become a danger to the individual and/or others. It is at this point that most people with dementia move to a care-facility. Studies have shown that the characteristics of care environments directly affect many AD resident behaviors and that AD special care settings affect their level of stress.
Hessam Ghamari with Jean O'Sullivan/College of HHD