Nursing homes and retirement village providers are increasingly seeing the importance of using sounds, sight and sensory cues to stimulate the minds of people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, providing an atmosphere that is more familiar to them.

By using basic design principles, the once unfamiliar style nursing home in the eyes of people with the disease can start to look and feel more like home again.

With more than fifty percent of residents in nursing homes reported to have the disease and up to eighty percent with some form of cognitive impairment, it’s no wonder providers are beginning to pay particular attention towards dementia specific memory units that care for this large and growing segment of the population.

Inspiration can be found at Pennsylvania nursing home that is changing the lives of residents by retrieving memories.

See how Pennsylvania Nursing Home has used retro-themed designs to open the minds of people with dementia.

Pennsylvania Nursing Home, stimulating memories

The Easton Home, is located in Pennsylvania and are using retro-themed straight from the 1930, 40s and ‘50s. With each room styled from previous decades – including wood-paneled radios in the dining room and antique cast-iron stove in the kitchen, playing music to stimulate the minds of residents with dementia. These old fashioned rooms have a dedicated wing within the nursing home that is specific for people with dementia. Established as a way of making residents feel at home again, helping them make sense of their current surroundings in the hope of retrieving memories. Taking them back in time to a period they can relate to. This approach as it’s known is reminiscence therapy, something we have previously highlighted the benefits in previously articles.

There have been many positive responses to this environment for residents. With one ninety year-old resident Olga Deacon and her family reported to believe that the new environment and surroundings are more conducive to starting conversation. Something they previously found difficult to know where to start due to Olga’s dementia. Their visits are now more enriching as they can spend time in the kitchen where you’ll find the old-fashioned ironing board, enabling Olga to engage more. Where she talks more about her relationship with her mother and how she use to help her with the ironing.

Whilst reminiscence therapy has been around for decades and the positive benefits well known it’s rather surprising that more nursing homes in Australia have not completely reformed their dementia unit similar to The Easton Home- Pennsylvania. Especially given the body of evidence both research and anecdotal well documented. With one study dating back to 1981 testing the benefits on a groups of older men from nursing homes. Dr Ellen Langer (Social Psychologist), who was behind this body of work, and has written extensively on mindful ageing, believing that the fixed beliefs adopted within oneself from childhood, can impact the way we age. Raising the question, can we think ourselves young again. We will share with you some of her research from this particular study of older men that were involved with retrieving memories through reminiscence therapy.

Research into the benefits of rewind the clock to 1959: Old Men Nursing Home Residents

Back in 1981, Dr. Ellen Langer and her colleagues experimented on two groups of men in their seventies and eighties. The men were driven by bus, two hours north to an old monastery in New Hamsphire, where they turned back time to 1959.

The men arriving in the first week were asked to pretend they were young men all over again, living in the 1950’s. The second group of men arrived one week later were told to stay in the present time and reminisce about their current era. Both groups found themselves in environments taking them back to mid-century. With vintage radios, black and white TV’s and other ornaments from that period. The impact for group two meant that their pre-lived memories came flooding back, whereas for group one what they were experiencing was a completely new experience.

Whilst the theory was something Dr Langer believed would have positive outcomes, the actual results surprised her and her colleagues beyond belief. The participants were given a series of cognitive and physical tests pre and post the experiment and after the first week the testing already showed dramatic positive changes noted across the board. Both groups were found to have more flexible joints, more agile fingers which were less impacted by arthritis. As well as wider shoulders, their gait, height, posture, hearing and vision – even an overall improvement on intelligence. The first group that were impersonating younger men from 1959 showed the most significant improvements, with their bodies actually seemingly ‘younger’.

Previous studies Dr Langer had completed at Yale, concluding that memory loss, a problem often blamed on age, could in fact be reversed simply by providing older people with meaningful reasons to remember facts. With the studies showing when personal relationships were made with subjects, older people’s memory improved. Another study, where researchers gave nursing home residents plants to take care of and control the decisions over how to care for the plant and oversee the management. Not only did the study show to improve the participants physical and psychological health: but their longevity also, with fewer of the nursing home residents dying after a year and a half.

Perhaps this is something your nursing home actively participates in? We would be keen to hear what innovative approaches nursing homes are adopting to improve the care for older people. Please share with us.

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