The ability to locate and travel successfully to a destination, known as wayfinding, is a significant problem for older adults with cognitive disorders. Relocating to a new residence such as independent or assisted living is a time in which older adults with cognitive problems are most vulnerable to experiencing difficulties finding their way. Often these long term care communities are not designed to facilitate wayfinding as they are complex, confusing, and lack distinctiveness. Wayfinding problems can cause an individual's world to shrink, leading to a smaller life space (the spatial extent of travel within the community), decreased engagement, and dependence upon others for activities of daily living. The overall goal of the proposed project is to assess the contribution of salient visual cues and Spaced Retrieval (SR) on wayfinding ability and life space in older adults with wayfinding problems who live in senior communities. Salient cues, such as vivid pictures, statues and bright, distinctive signage can make senior residential communities more memorable and distinctive. This study has three specific aims: a) To examine the effect of salient cues with and without spaced retrieval education on wayfinding ability initially and over time in older adults who have wayfinding deficits in long term care communities; and b) To determine the effects of salient visual cues and SR on life space; and c) to determine subject characteristics that are most amenable to the intervention; and which subject characteristics place persons at risk for less responsiveness to the intervention so that the intervention can be appropriately targeted. There are three arms to the clinical trial to which nine care communities will be randomly assigned, including Arm 1 (control; no change to the care community); Arm 2 (colorful and familiar objects and signage placed within the care community); and Arm 3 (Arm 2 cues plus SR). Participants will be individuals within the communities who exhibit problems finding their way. They will be asked to find their way repeatedly to specific destinations over a period of a year. Wayfinding performance, including how fast the participants find the test location and the errors they make compared between study Arms. Life space will also be measured and compared between Arms. It is hypothesized that individuals who are in care communities which are enhanced with salient cues will improve wayfinding when compared to care communities without salient cues. In addition, Spaced Retrieval, which is an evidence-based memory strategy, is hypothesized to positively influence subjects' use of the cues and improve wayfinding performance. Finally, it is hypothesized that wayfinding ability will correlate with life space. The long term goals of this research are to test an evidence based intervention to enhance senior residences so that older adults who have wayfinding problems can more easily learn and remember their environments so that they can maintain independence.

Public Health Relevance

The work outlined in this proposal will provide information about the effectiveness of distinctive cues and spaced retrieval education to enhance wayfinding ability for older adults who frequently get lost in long term care communities. A better understanding of how the physical environment can be used to support independence in wayfinding is essential for independence and well-being.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Plude, Dana Jeffrey
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Grand Valley State University
Schools of Nursing
United States
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