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Decorating a room or hospice to represent a particular period to trigger positive memories and offer comfort.

Photo of Courtney Gallagher
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Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine the end-of-life experience?

My idea is designed for any elderly person, whether they are in their own home or in a hospice. Furniture and decorations may offer the comfort of consistency or the reminder of positive memories. Especially for someone who is growing old, a particular period of time might be reminiscent of a time in their life or a particular person. By simply decorating the space to encourage these memories may impact the comfort and mindset of a person.

'Retro-decorating' is a concept borrowed from the care of dementia patients. Trials in Liverpool found to have be very good for helping dementia sufferers who had become withdrawn ( The simple placement of furnishing or decorations can trigger memory in a person with dementia, allowing them easier access to their memories. 

This concept can be applied to elderly people, or possibly even people with depression. It is taking the idea of photographs to preserve memories, and extending it to the entire environment. The decor will be suited to the individual, to encourage memories and comfort from a positive time in their lives. 

My Grandma moved into an elderly home a couple years ago. It was tough on her, she really didn't want to move, but we knew if we didn't force her to move out of her three floor condo she wouldn't be around for much longer. She was resistant to the change and the added stubbornness of a proud older women didn't make the process very easy. What helped her settle in was moving her old furniture into the apartment. When I walked in, I felt like I was back at Grandma's house - even the set up felt felt familiar. I think this small bit of consistency and familiarity helped her to adapt to change and certainly makes her more comfortable.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We could redecorate a hospice or elderly living center to reflect the positive memories of the individuals living there. It would require research into the individuals life to determine suitable objects which may offer them more comfort.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Research/knowledge into the iconic period elements which might encourage memories from a certain period of time. These elements could be used to facilitate a similar environment to which the individual would like to relive. Potentially the ability to influence the design of hospital rooms to time periods of the individuals choice, even by simply bringing in an object reflective of that period could be helpful (we will have to test this). Access to health professionals to get their input and test

Tell us about your work experience:

I work in user experience design, mostly in the financial space and am currently pursuing a masters in Human Centred Systems.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual


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Photo of Olivia Kang

Courtney - this is such a wonderful idea. Memories are so powerful, and this is such a wonderfully personal way to bring comfort to the dying and elderly. 

As I was reading your contribution, I had two thoughts: 
1) We all long for deep connection. We are an incredibly social species, but also one that tends to shed friends and social connections as we age. What would you think about expanding this retro-decorating idea so that people who are nostalgic for similar eras could be near each other? Having these same memories and the same love for a specific time or culture could allow people to reminisce and form new relationships, perhaps at a time when they need them the most.

2) In addition to physical reminders of a treasured time, it would also be wonderful to incorporate music into this overall idea of emotional time travel! Music is so powerful, and capable of triggering memories and bringing comfort even to patients with advanced dementia and Alzheimers -- and even bringing physical comfort to those with motor/physical conditions (Parkinson's, stroke, etc). There has been some neuroimaging work that shows that music activates special autobiographical memory brain areas that are spared from the effects of e.g. Alzheimer's, and motor-planning areas that perhaps improves coordination for motor diseases. Perhaps retro-decorating could be made into a complete sensory experience! 

Anyway, those were just my musings. Thanks for sharing such a cool idea! This challenge may be more somber, but this contribution seems like such a joyful way to celebrate life. 

Photo of Courtney Gallagher

Olivia, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts they are wonderful and add the purpose of the idea, to create a comfortable, social experience for people to celebrate their lives. 

I love the 'retro-communities' idea - it is a great way for individuals to share the experience and form relationships. Especially at this stage of life, it can be difficult to find common ground or put in the effort required for new relationships, the shared space and interests may help break down those barriers. Visitors or members of other 'eras' could even visit communities to be taken into a different period of time and set of memories. 

The music idea is fantastic, you are right, it would be sensory experience helping to transform the space. My grandma used to have a classical music cassette she would put on in the car and she loved it so much, no matter what her mood she would begin singing and smiling!

Thanks for these great ideas.

Photo of Olivia Kang

Yes absolutely! That's such a great point about it being just as exciting to visit other "places" and "time periods" as it would be to find someone else who has chosen the same world. What I love about this is that it allows both the possibility for active interaction and relationship-building (and the conversation starter is already there!), and the option of simply being in the same space or listening to the same music and feeling some sort of bond with another person even if you don't speak at all. 

Many of the posted ideas focus on friends and family, which makes a lot of sense. I think your idea is so great because it sets up possibilities for comfort and connection even when friends and family cannot be there. 

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