JDC Spring-2001 v3 - A Pattern Language for Designing Interiors for Alzheimer's Patients


The Pattern Language for Designing Interiors for Alzheimer's patients comprises of problem solving patterns. Each pattern while providing physical design solutions, lays emphasis on the psychological aspect. Based on the book "A Pattern Language" written by Alexander, Ishikawa and Silverstein (1977), each pattern in the pattern language is connected to larger and smaller patterns providing a holistic view of the problem. "When you build something you cannot make it isolated. You have to repair its inside and improvise on it surroundings, because only as a whole would it perform the function it was created for"- Alexander, Ishikawa and Silverstein. Thus A Pattern Language for Alzheimer's patients is an effort to form patterns for this special group of cognitively impaired people.

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive and irreversible neurological condition that has affected 4 million elderly people (Evans. D). A person impaired by this malady over the time is affected with diminishing memory, change in behaviors, aimless wandering, impaired thinking, perceptual and motor problems. Starting with short-term memory loss it magnifies to long-term memory loss where the patients are unable to identify themselves in the last stage of the disease. As the disease progresses they stop responding to their surroundings and are unable to perform even simple tasks on their own.

There is a growing awareness of 'healing design' while designing for this group of mentally, physically and emotionally challenged people. Present care units still adopt the hospital sterile look in order to incorporate simple interiors for the Alzheimer residents. Simple does not mean sterile and care should be taken not to reduce the environment for cognitively impaired to sensory deprived environment (Brawley, 1992).

One of the elements in the care program of this population is the environment. It is the designers' responsibility to structure the near environment to reinforce independency comfort and security to human beings requiring support and care. There are five basic principles recommended for good care (Schiff, 1990). The near environment should 1) be clear and well structured 2) be stable and familiar 3) serve as a cue to behavior 4) Serve as a cue to memory and 5) support reality orientation. Looking beyond surface embellishments and intervening with the near environment using functional design, a space can speak of life, vitality and self-esteem of a human being. Thoughtfully designed environments addressing deficits can help alleviate the residents psychologically and pose as amiable and inviting settings to family and friends.


A frail elderly affected with Alzheimer's disease transits through 3 stages. While designing for this population the inability to gauge the exact stage of the disease the residents are in, along with the erratic changes in behavioral patterns they exhibit as they transit from one stage to another makes it impossible to provide a solution that would perfectly suit all residents equally. What may be useful to one in the first stage when the illness is in its formative stage may be redundant to the patient who barely even recognizes himself or his surroundings in the final stage.