December 15, 2015 8:12 pm
Updated: December 15, 2015 8:21 pm

N.S. students design for people living with dementia

WATCH: Cities and towns are rethinking how to make their public spaces more friendly to those with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. In Nova Scotia, Ross Lord met a class of young designers making it their mission to help.


HALIFAX — For Marilyn Taylor, living with Alzheimer’s disease means a series of adjustments.

In the early stages of the disease, she’s switched to shatter-proof dishes, to compensate for declining motor skills.

But, other everyday activities are hard.

She doesn’t drive and relies on transit buses to get around Halifax — often losing her way.

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“You’re easily confused, at night especially,” says the 65-year-old Halifax woman. “The signs have lost their flourescence. You can’t identify what they are at night anymore.”

READ MORE: A special ‘neighbourhood’ for people with dementia

After sharing her experience with fourth-year design students at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, they went to work.

They’ve designed transit signs that light up at night, added more yellow to the signs and included a triangular shape on the bottom, to make them easier to identify.

“you see the number 1 and 7, that could easily be mistaken for the number 17 bus route, if that even exists,” student Warren Jones says as he compares the current bus transit signs with their new design. “This way every bus route is on its’ own square. That way, you can distinguish one from the other, and there’s no way it can get confused.”

Taylor likes what she sees.

“You can spot all the different numbers, instead of them going together,” she says. The design students also created a so-called “sensor bag.”

It would help mid-stage dementia patients to calmly touch soft material, for sensory stimulation, without feeling self-conscious.

“It discreetly hides your hand within the bag, so it gives a little bit more dignity,” says Stephanie Loukes, as she proudly displays the innovative creation.

There’s also an identification tag, so members of the public can contact a caregiver — if needed.

They’ve even developed plans for a “green zone,” for late-stage dementia patients. The greenhouses would provide more sunlight in nursing homes and a comforting space.

READ MORE: Nearly 47 million people have dementia, numbers likely to double every 2 decades: report

It’s an assignment students like Jocelyn Lee, embraced.

“My great-grandmother and my grandfather have both had Alzheimer’s disease,” Lee says. “So, it was really great to work with something that you know a lot of the community has to deal with.”

It’s the kind of reaction their professor, Glen Hougan, anticipated.

Hougan has specialized in design for an older population. He says finding ways to improve the quality of life for dementia patients is critical.

“I don’t know if it’s solveable,” he tells Global News. “But, actually navigate this issue, that’s what we’re doing, is trying to navigate it for Canada, and as our population ages around the world.”

The Alzheimers Society of Nova Scotia, says the project has potential.

“One that clearly can have an impact in improving the quality of life and dignity of older people with a dementia,” says executive director Lloyd Brown.

If adopted, the ideas might make the outside world a bit less intimidating, for Taylor and the escalating number of others suffering from forms of dementia.

“That’s what we need,” says Taylor, her face brightening with the knowledge a group of young strangers cared enough to listen and try to help.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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