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Simulating the sounds of dementia

December 4, 2017
by Pamela Tabar, Editor-in-Chief
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Australian architect Anthony Clarke and international acoustic engineer Nick Boulter have teamed up to create an acoustic exhibit to simulate the way people with dementia hear, and it’s making noise in the memory care design world.

The display uses 24 sound panels made from foam, metal, plastic, mesh or other materials. Embedded speakers push sounds around the room, as listeners hear the sounds ricochet off some panels and be absorbed or distorted by other panels.

The overall effect is cacophony and bizarre distortion—similar to the way those with cognitive decline can experience the everyday noises of a skilled nursing environment, Tanya Petrovich, PhD, of Dementia Australia–Victoria, tells ABC Australia’s Radio National.

"The noise of people walking through with trolleys, medications, busy doing their duties of caring for people," Petrovich explains. "If I’m a person with dementia I’m thinking, 'I need to get out of here.' But my cognitive processes don't allow me to make the next move. I know I want to get out, but I'm not sure how to get out, nor am I able to. I'm stuck there.”

Auditory overload can cause those with dementia to lash out in fear, frustration or aggression, Petrovich says.

Clarke says he hopes the display will raise awareness and encourage senior living architects to reconsider the materials and designs used in senior living spaces, especially common rooms where noises tend to blend.

Visitors had a chance to experience the display at October’s National Dementia Convention in Melbourne.

YouTube video on the exhibit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXkNc-tG-ow

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