Penn State Mont Alto class works to improve life for dementia patients

Cheryl Cheek, associate professor of human development and family studies at Penn State Mont Alto, and 10 of her students have developed a "retro room" for dementia patients at the Quincy Village Retirement Community in Quincy, Pa. The project was part of a senior-level class on aging.

Cheek said the retro room is intended to help dementia patients recall a time when they were most comfortable -- in most cases, the 1950s and 1960s. While the concept has been practiced with success in Europe, it had not yet been applied in the United States. She said the use of retro rooms have shown to reduce both patient agitation and the use of medications in dementia patients. Cheek got the idea after her daughter, who lives in London, told her about a nursing home in England that had one (called a reminiscence room). “I thought it would be a perfect project for the aging class I teach,” she said.

The National Library of Medicine defines dementia as a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment and behavior. Cheek said dementia patients may experience what is called “sundowning,” so called because agitation often happens around sundown when a family would normally be coming home to get busy fixing dinner.  People with dementia remember around this time of day that they should be doing something but cannot remember what, so they feel agitated, according to Cheek.

“With dementia, it isn’t the old memories that are lost first, but the new ones," she said. "The older memories remain intact the longest, so patients get agitated when everything is new and different.”

The concept of the retro room is to provide a comfortable place for patients to go that feels like home according to their old memories. In order to complete their Retro Room at Quincy Village, Cheek and her students collected furniture from the 1950s and 1960s, along with a trunk containing clothes such as shawls and hats. In addition, they decorated with historic photos from the area, and items from the period such as a typewriter and a rotary telephone.

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Last Updated January 10, 2012