internship project for blue rhino design


research & Sensory Experience Design 

2018 toronto

Researched the causes of dementia, identified stakeholders, issues, existing communication and spacial problems in caring facilities. Provided a case study and opportunities to create environments using music and sensory experiences to involve families. This study identified the commonalities between elderly with dementia and young children focused on activities for future nursing home family areas.


Who are we without our memories?

Leading Cause of Death 


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*Every 3.2 seconds a new case of dementia occurs somewhere in the world 

What causes Dementia? 

Dementia is caused by abnormal activities of proteins in the brain. 

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Dementia Types

There are four known dementia types. The difference between these four types is that they affect different combinations of the areas of the brain. 

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Other than the four known types of dementia, there are many more. However, all types of dementia have a lot of in common.


"There are no diseases, there are only patients" 

The four myths of dementia

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For more information on why these are myths, please contact me. 

commonalities between elderly

and children


"Children and young adults build up brain 'reserves' by reading and undertaking mental challenges, and older adults can continue to build these brain connections through stimulating activities" 

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There are many activities that prevent cognitive decline and at the same time that are challenging for young adults. These common activities can build a foundation for an experience or an exhibition for a common space designed for the elderly and the children. 


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nursing homes

Nursing homes divide into two categories depending on the length of the stay



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Short Term 

Long Term 




Nursing homes are not homes.


The institutionalized mindset of labelling people who have dementia as patients has to change and we must include them in society and enrich their lives as humans not only as patients.  



Problems and opportunities 

                   in nursing homes


Lack of communal space

Lack of personal space

Lack of hominess

Lack of personalization

Lack of "life"

Lack of activities

Institutional looks 


"They need to be in spaces they understand"

-Yvonne Van Amerongen

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Community programs organizes events and activities 

They only pick the most engaged ones 

Less agitated ones

Residents in bed care are unable to participate

Participation and activities is an important part of the life in nursing homes. However, there are problems because it does not involve everyone. This participation time can be the one thing that makes them feel like they belong to a group. These activities are vital for them to feel engaged with life and each other, to feel like they are alive.


Residents who are in bed care, who are agitated and frustrated are the ones that need the activities the most yet they are the first ones to be excluded.


These problems are big opportunities for the creative field. 

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Stimulation and Sensory Needs

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Key to find the right amount of stimulation for each individual

Some of the elderly may have a trauma history that could be triggered 

Senses are vital for us to feel like we are alive and sensory experience has a different value for each individual. 

snoezelen rooms

Snoezelen rooms are sensory rooms that consist of multi-sensory objects. 


When I have visited a school for kids with disabilities for a different project, I saw a room like this at their school. Their teachers told us that this room relieved some of the kids' frustrations and helped them to calm down and be more relaxed. 

Sensory Rooms are a huge opportunity for the creative field. Different designs could be done for different medical conditions and needs for various age groups.

*See Synesthetic Empathic to find out more about our relationship with our senses.

How does

Affect memory?

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Memory and senses are interrelated. 


Have you ever smelled an odour that reminded you of someone or somewhere? 


Have you ever heard a song that took you back to a time in your life?

montessori technique

Montessori method of education is taking into consideration that when you are working with children you must consider their capacities and their limitations. You do not want to bore them by giving something very easy nor frustrate them with a very challenging activity. 

When I have interviewed a nurse, she told me that Montessori technique is also used for dementia patients. The activities are designed to engage the senses.

7 Montessori Activities

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Anyone who is interested in Dementia must watch this documentary. 

It is very powerful and shows how music gives life to patients. 


It is these kinds of sensory experiences that will change their lives not medications because before being patients they are humans. 





When I was researching I came across how many dementia patients develop depression after being sent to nursing homes. Some of the patients don't have a family so there is no one visiting them, for this reason, the caregivers might not have any idea who the patient is. The agitated and frustrated patients are excluded from the activities. 


These people are taken away from their homes and they are put in places that look like hospitals, there are nothing and no one familiar around them, they are excluded from society and kept indoors. Anyone "without dementia" in these conditions would eventually develop depression. 

"We haven't done anything to touch the soul and the heart of the patient"

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The importance of 

Story Telling

If our experiences and people around us shape us, who are we without our memories? 


When Jay Newton-Small's dad had to be taken to a long-term nursing home,  instead of filling medical forms about her dad, she decided to write his life story. She believed that that was the best way for the nurses to know him. It worked miraculously because the nurses that took care of him were assigned specifically to him depending on the places that he had traveled. His caregivers knew his life, which meant that he was surrounded with his memories, in a way with himself. 


Upon my interviews with nurses, I found out that some nursing homes use a "memory box". This box is kept in front of each patient's room. Every time a patient remembers a happy memory, a nurse writes it down, and they refer back to these individual boxes when the patient is frustrated. 

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The town of 


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The town of Hogeway is a village outside of Amsterdam where everyone has Dementia. It is roughly the size of 10 football fields. There are 152 patients living in this "real" town. Like every town, it has its own town square, theater, garden and post office. Caretakers are a part of the life at the village, where they are casually clothed, "cashiers" or "visitors" of the town. There is only one real door of this town and it is monitored with cameras at all times. 


I personally think this is brilliant because it makes the "patients" humans. They are not excluded from society and put in cold institutionalized places that are not familiar to them when all they need is familiarity, fresh air, and the feeling of belonging.

To learn more about this brilliant care facility, click on the picture above. 



What is good for the heart, is good for the brain.

"A combination of social, mental and physical stimulation is the best medicine for a healthy life"