Some two dozen neuroscientists, architects, caregivers and students are upstairs in the meeting rooms here at Dana Center in Washington, D.C., this week, discussing how best to design facilities for people who have Alzheimer’s disease (and all of us as we hit a certain age). But what struck me this morning during the background session was what we already know about the youngest of us.
Researchers such as Stanley Graven are studying premature babies in neonatal intensive care units and how the environment around them—the bright light, the beepers and constant P.A. system pages, etc.— affects their cognitive and physical development. In one set of studies, they found that these babies, outside the dark womb and overexposed to lights, sound and movement—suffer measurable abnormalities in development, explained caregiver and writer John Zeisel, with the Academy of Neurosciences for Architecture. For example, these preemies could never have “perfect pitch,” in many cases two notes or musical pitches sound the same to them, and their range of high and low in hearing is much narrower than the average. The obvious suggestion: dampen some of the unnecessary sound.
In the past, environments such as ICUs were designed for the efficiency of the caregiver; now we are starting to consider the affect on the patients. This has greatly improved how premature babies experience their days. I hope this week’s conferees can do the same for our millions of elders as well.
-- Nicky Penttila