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Aging at home: contributions from NeuroArchitecture

By Andréa de Paiva & Ciro Férrer (@cirof.arq.memoravel)


When designing a residential development, do you consider whether the spaces are ready to provide the necessary support throughout the aging process of the inhabitants? Generally, when families purchase a property, they tend to spend many years of their lives there. This means that a younger family buying a property may end up living in the same place until they age. Therefore, this article discusses the importance of considering this perspective when designing residential spaces and how Neuroarchitecture and a more people-focused approach can contribute greatly to the user-experience throughout the aging process.


Envelhecendo Em Casa: contribuições da NeuroArquitetura
Fonte: Ncimpact.sog.unc.edu (2021).

Given the rapid growth of the elderly population in recent decades [1], innovative approaches to promote healthy aging are increasingly important. According to projections by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), in 2030, for the first time, the Brazilian elderly population will be more numerous than that of children, surpassing 43 million [2]. And this trend is not unique to Brazil. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), life expectancy increased by over 6 years between 2000 and 2019, evolving from 66.8 years in 2000 to 73.4 years in 2019 [3]. In this scenario, architecture and design play an important role in supporting the quality of life and autonomy of the population throughout the different phases of life, with a particular emphasis on the longest phases in which our relationship with the environment undergoes significant transformations [4].

Neuroarchitecture, which seeks to bring a more people-focused perspective through interdisciplinary and scientific approaches, can join forces with the field of Gerontology. This, in turn, is a field that deeply investigates human aging in the biopsychosocial sphere. Through research in this area, we can better understand the changes that occur in our body and how we relate to people and the environment in different stages of the aging process. This knowledge is important not only when designing spaces specifically for older people, but also for designing more accessible spaces for everyone, as we are all potentially future older adults. In other words, the idea we are advocating here is that aging is a process - one that everyone will go through sooner or later - and that built spaces should be appropriate for this process [5]. In this context, the "Aging-in-Place" concept explains a promising aspect in terms of residential space favorable to longevity [6,7]. "Aging-in-Place" is the ability to live in your own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or level of motor or cognitive ability [6]. This concept seeks to emphasize the role of the residential environment in assisting our daily activities gradually, flexibly, and assertively, according to our needs. It is worth noting that some well-established concepts in NeuroArchitecture can support "Aging-in-Place" and contribute to longevity with better quality. For this article, we have selected three important macro-strategies to be considered in this context (it is important to note that this topic is quite complex and there are several possible strategies - beyond the three we are presenting here - and they should always be combined and not just used individually).


  1. Increasing autonomy through a design that facilitates orientation and navigation.


Envelhecendo Em Casa: contribuições da NeuroArquitetura
Fonte: Seniorlifepa.com (2021).

Considering changes in visual acuity and motor strength over time, circulation through the environment and its recognition and identification - essential for spatial navigation - can be impaired. Anticipating this fact, architecture and design can bring some strategically thought-out elements to facilitate these processes that may become more difficult with age. Ease of access is essential to encourage autonomy and exploration of residential spaces, whether they are private or communal. Clear, unobstructed, and wide routes without obstacles, such as furniture in the way, uneven thresholds, or stairs, increase safety and facilitate movement through space. Additionally, strategies to improve visibility should also be carefully considered, including good lighting, the use of materials and colors with greater contrast applied to specific elements that need to be observed (such as uneven surfaces or signage), and the layout design that facilitates the visualization of the environment as a whole (solutions such as atriums and plazas are good examples of spaces that can provide good visibility and facilitate orientation in the environment).

Utilizing sensory cues to facilitate orientation and navigation through space is another important tip. Spaces that are too similar or with too much information and no clear clues can be confusing. This leads us to the second strategy we would like to discuss in this article:



2. Stimulating the senses to facilitate identification and generate more connection.


Envelhecendo Em Casa: contribuições da NeuroArquitetura
Fonte: Seniorlifepa.com (2021).

Our relationship with the environment occurs through all senses in an integrated way. This means that if one sense is not working as well, information brought by other senses can help the brain better understand the environment, as long as they are congruent. For example, tactile floors usually have a strong and contrasting color with their surroundings (to facilitate visual processing) along with a texture relief so that the sense of touch is combined with that of vision.

When designing residential environments with a focus on longevity, we can use this to our advantage to create better spaces for all users. The combination of materials and colors, for example, can be thought of not only as an aesthetic solution, but also as a solution that can facilitate sensory processing and the identification of the environment and stimuli within it. For instance, changing the flooring material according to the use of the environment affects not only its appearance but also its acoustics and the tactile information that the space transmits. All of this information is processed by the brain and used to identify the location where the individual is.


Our senses allow us to perceive the world around us and respond to it appropriately. Moreover, our senses provide us with information to be stored in our memory. A more homogenous environment, in which all spaces are very similar, hinders the process of identification and navigation. We can remember our experiences navigating hospital corridors. In addition to being enclosed spaces with limited visibility (as we already discussed as something to avoid), the sensory experiences in these spaces are all very similar, with the same colors, sounds, smells, textures, etc. Whether in a hospital or even in a simpler environment, we need to avoid this.

To do so, we can explore the information that the environment provides to all our senses and seek to create a specific sensory identity for each space. For example, a space like the living room or a common area in a residential complex can have a more stimulating atmosphere, achieved through the combination of decoration, colors, finishing materials, etc. On the other hand, a space like the bedroom can have a more tranquil atmosphere, with softer colors, gentler lighting, and softer textures. In addition, through these information - or sensory cues - we can seek to rescue affective memories, that is, those that have more emotional connection with the user. Paintings, photo frames, memory boards are good examples of elements that can serve as "triggers" to retrieve these memories and generate identification. But they are not the only ones: smells (such as the smell of a flower or wet soil in the garden), materials and colors, shapes and proportions, and even sounds can be combined in a way to create more familiar atmospheres that refer to a known landscape. The combination of these various elements mentioned facilitates orientation and navigation, making spaces much more user-friendly for all types of people. In addition, the more we explore an environment, the more familiar it becomes to us. This helps to generate greater connection and a sense of belonging, and consequently, the tendency is that we become more calm and relaxed in these familiar territories [9]. Furthermore, by encouraging people to move around the space, there are more opportunities for social interaction and walking. This leads us to the third strategy we would like to discuss in this article...



3. Design to stimulate movement, socialization and health


Envelhecendo Em Casa: contribuições da NeuroArquitetura
Fonte: Extranet.who.int (2022).

Moving the body through walks and other physical activities is important both for short-term well-being and for long-term physical [10, 11] and mental health [19, 20]. Even at a slower pace, movement and walking are crucial for blood circulation and cardiovascular function, as well as for maintaining brain health [12-15]. Walking in the common areas of a condominium increases the probability of encountering someone and interacting socially. Therefore, spatial design, through the creation of paths and areas of different shapes and proportions, is an important component to engage and broaden different levels of social interaction, as well as to provide physical activities together and keep the body moving [5,16]. The role of social interaction for our health has been well documented in several studies worldwide and is associated, among other things, with the reduction of depression occurrence and the delay of memory loss progression [17,18], as well as the reduction of the risk of cardiovascular problems, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases [18,19]. In addition to these benefits, different features in the environment design can be thought of to help encourage exploration through walking. Many of them have been mentioned above, such as the creation of unique multisensory atmospheres for each space, increasing the connection with the environment and the sense of belonging through sensory cues that recall positive affective memories, as well as wide, safe, visible, and obstacle-free routes.


But in addition to the mentioned characteristics, there are others that can also help create more pleasant, stimulating, and inviting spaces. Among them, it is worth highlighting biophilic design [20]. The benefits of positive contact with nature in indoor and outdoor spaces, as well as in direct experiences (plants, animals, water, natural light) and indirect experiences (materials, simulation through natural colors and forms), have been widely studied. These benefits include stress reduction [21] and attention restoration [22].

Another important detail to consider is the scale of the environment. Very large spaces can be more complex and difficult to understand, generating less comfort and a sense of familiarity. In addition, a larger space requires users to cover longer distances to reach their points of interest. It is common for people to feel more comfortable walking short distances several times than long distances at once, which can be much more tiring and seem more challenging [23,24]. In other words, shorter routes can encourage more walking than longer ones. Therefore, in addition to rethinking the scales of the environments, it is important to consider stopping points along longer routes, dividing them into parts.

Designing housing for older adults to promote neurocognitive health requires a sufficient level of environmental complexity provided by spatial elements that are physically, socially, and cognitively stimulating [25,26]. Therefore, we combine neuroscience, architecture, and aging-in-place to fill an important gap in knowledge about how housing design for older adults can positively impact users' cognitive abilities and brain health.

As mentioned earlier, these are just some of the strategies that help us create solutions that encourage aging in place and make residential spaces more accessible and functional for everyone, at different stages of their lives. Seeking interdisciplinary knowledge, including - but not limited to - areas such as Neuroarchitecture and gerontology, enables a greater understanding of the particularities of the relationship between older adults and the physical environment.

From this search, we expand the knowledge base that is essential to define more efficient design strategies. Thus, we can go far beyond the strategies pointed out here, creating customized solutions, specific to each case. Finally, it is worth remembering that when we design residential environments taking into account the aging process, we are not limiting ourselves to just one type of audience. On the contrary, we create better spaces for all users, after all, we all experience this process! Was this article helpful? Leave us a comment and follow NeuroAU on social media! 😊



References:

[1]: Miranda, G. M. D.; Mendes, A. DA C. G.; Silva, A. L. A. DA . (2016). Population aging in Brazil: current and future social challenges and consequences. Revista Brasileira de Geriatria e Gerontologia, v. 19, n. Rev. bras. geriatr. gerontol.


[2]: IBGE, Instituto Brasieiro de Geografia e Estatística (2018). Projeções da População. Populações Projetadas Mensalmente, 2018. Disponível em: <https://www.ibge.gov.br/estatisticas/sociais/populacao/9109-projecao-da-populacao.html?edicao=17993&t=downloads>. Acesso em: 29 dez. 2022.


[3]: WHO, World Health Organisation (2019). Dementia fact sheet. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/dementia.


[4]: Van Steenwinkel, I., DierckxI De Casterlé, B., & Heylighen, A. (2017). How architectural design affords experiences of freedom in residential care for older people. Journal of Aging Studies, 41(March), 84–92. Disponível em: <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2017.05.001> . Acesso em: 3 set. 2022.


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[6]: CDCP, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy places terminology: Aging in place. 2013. Disponível em: <http://www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces/terminology.htm>. Acesso em: 10 set. 2022.


[7]: Lewis, C.; Buffel, T. (2020). Aging in place and the places of aging: A longitudinal study, Journal of Aging Studies, Volume 54. Disponível em:<https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2020.100870>. Acesso em: 11 ago. 2022.


[8]: Hayne, Michael J. and Fleming, Richard. (2014). Acoustic design guidelines for dementia care facilities. Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health - Papers: part A. 2640. https://ro.uow.edu.au/smhpapers/2640.


[9] Kim, J.Y., Choi, J.K., Han, W., & Kim, J.H. (2021). The Influence of Users’ Spatial Familiarity on Their Emotional Perception of Space and Wayfinding Movement Patterns. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 21.


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[13] Kirk-Sanchez, N. J., & McGough, E. L. (2014). Physical exercise and cognitive performance in the elderly: current perspectives. Clinical interventions in aging, 9, 51–62. https://doi.org/10.2147/CIA.S39506


[14] Jackson, P. A., Pialoux, V., Corbett, D., Drogos, L., Erickson, K. I., Eskes, G. A., & Poulin, M. J. (2016). Promoting brain health through exercise and diet in older adults: a physiological perspective. The Journal of physiology, 594(16), 4485–4498. https://doi.org/10.1113/JP271270


[15] Pedrinolla, A., Schena, F., & Venturelli, M. (2017). Resilience to Alzheimer's Disease: The Role of Physical Activity. Current Alzheimer research, 14(5), 546–553. https://doi.org/10.2174/1567205014666170111145817


[16]: Mora, Francisco; Segovia, Gregório; Del Arco, Alberto (2007). Aging, plasticity and environmental enrichment: Structural changes and neurotransmitter dynamics in several areas of the brain, Brain Research Reviews, Volume 55, Issue 1. Disponível em:<https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brainresrev.2007.03.011>. Acesso em: 23 dez. 2021.


[17] Ybarra, O., Burnstein, E., Winkielman, P., Keller, M.C., Manis, M., Chan, E., & Rodriguez, J. (2008). Functioning Mental Exercising Through Simple Socializing : Social Interaction Promotes General Cognitive.


[18] Tan, J., & Wang, Y. (2019). Social Integration, Social Support, and All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Prospective Cohort Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(9), 1498. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16091498


[19] Mammen, G., & Faulkner, G. (2013). Physical activity and the prevention of depression: a systematic review of prospective studies. American journal of preventive medicine, 45(5), 649–657. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.001


[20]: Kellert, S.R., Stephen; Heerwagen J., Mador M. (2008). Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc., pp. 59-83, 2008.


[21]: Jamshidi S, Parker J. S. and Hashemi S. (2020). “The effects of environmental factors on the patient outcomes in hospital environments: A review of literature,” Frontiers of Architectural Research, vol. 9, no. 2. Higher Education Press Limited Company, pp. 249–263, Jun. 01, 2020. doi: 10.1016/j.foar.2019.10.001.


[22]: Llorens-Gámez M, Higuera-Trujillo JL, Omarrementeria CS and Llinares C. (2022). “The impact of the design of learning spaces on attention and memory from a neuroarchitectural approach: A systematic review,” Frontiers of Architectural Research, vol. 11, no. 3. Higher Education Press Limited Company, pp. 542–560, Jun. 01. doi: 10.1016/j.foar.2021.12.002.


[23]: Djebbara, Z., Fich, L.B. & Gramann, K. (2021). The brain dynamics of architectural affordances during transition. Sci Rep 11, 2796. Disponível em:<https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-82504-w>. Acesso em: 4 maio 2022.


[24]: Fong, Stephanie, et al. (2019). Plastic changes in brain morphology in relation to learning and environmental enrichment in the guppy (Poecilia reticulata). J Exp Biol. Disponível em: <https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.200402>. Acesso em: 21 dez. 2021.


[25]: Baroncelli, L., Braschi, C., Spolidoro, M. et al. (2010). Nurturing brain plasticity: impact of environmental enrichment. Cell Death Differ 17, 1092–1103. Disponível em: <https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193>. Acesso em: 25 jan. 2022.


[26]: BiggioI, F. et al. (2019). Social enrichment reverses the isolation-induced deficits of neuronal plasticity in the hippocampus of male rats, Neuropharmacology, Volume 151. Disponível em: <https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2019.03.030>. Acesso em: 22 dez. 2021.


The authors: To find out more about Andréa de Paiva, click here


Guest author: Ciro Férrer (@cirof.arq.memoravel)

graduated in Architecture and Urbanism specialist in Longevity and Dementia-Friendly Architectural Design


Ciro Albuquerque, Architect and Urban Planner specialized in Neuroscience applied to Architecture, Gerontology, Applied Geriatrics, and Neuroscience applied to Learning. A lover of knowledge and fascinated by the human aging process, he dedicates himself to research and practices in dementia-friendly architecture, urbanism, and design in order to delay dementia through cognitive stimulation fostered by the built environment. Therefore, his life purpose is to provide aging-in-place, longevity, and quality of life to the elderly | ciro.ferrer@hotmail.com | ciro.zarnark@edu.com.br | +55 85 99917 6340 | https://ciroferrer.wixsite.com/my-site | ANFA BRASIL.





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