Susan Booher

Ohio State University

“This was a great learning experience that carried me out of the classroom and into the community which supports the aging population of Ohio.”

With the privilege to participate in the Ohio Scholars in Aging program of 2020, I met many professionals that are making positive impacts on Ohio’s aging population. These advocates come from different professions and community agencies but share a common interest of serving and protecting Ohio’s older adults. I learned from several legislators about the areas of interest they are continuing to build or improve upon with policies to positively affect the older adults. They shared their own interests as well as those of their district’s constituents. Through efforts and education, the Ohio Department of Aging and the Ohio Association of Gerontology and Education are preparing student scholars to continue the motion of being future advocates to promote the wellbeing of Ohio’s older adults.

My research began at Senior Star’s Dublin Retirement Village during my participation in the Ohio Scholars in Aging program. I collaborated with this community while developing my thesis as an MFA Candidate in Design Research and Development with General Interdisciplinary Specialization in Aging at The Ohio State University. I developed relationships with the caregiving staff and residents at Dublin Retirement Village prior to beginning my research in their community. The caregiving staff shared their successful approaches, which included sensorial stimuli to get residents with dementia to complete their activities of daily living (ADL) (e.g., dressing, bathing, eating, etc.) or to calm individuals who were agitated.

My research is investigating biophilic elements that could be used as interventions to improve moods, behaviors and activities of daily living (ADL) of persons with dementia. Biophilic design brings elements of nature into the built environment where they are sensorially experienced by the individual within the space through visuals, sounds, scents or textures. Interventions are activities that may be used to change a person’s mood or behavior (e.g., playing the person’s favorite music on their headphones, feeding the person chocolate, massaging the person’s hands with scented lotion). The participants in the original study were individuals diagnosed with dementia living in Dublin Retirement Village’s Memory Support care. Their formal caregivers volunteered to assist on my study by observing the participants, then rating their moods and behaviors before and after receiving stimulation experienced through their senses (e.g., sight, hearing, smell, feel, taste).

In response to our current situation with the Coronavirus pandemic, my interaction with participants with dementia was indefinitely delayed, so I pivoted my study to be conducted with caregivers (i.e., paid nurse aides and family members caring for loved ones). Because my original participants are not able to take part in the study remotely, I will work with caregivers to continue my efforts in investigating biophilic interventions to improve moods and behaviors of persons with dementia.

Through the Ohio Scholars in Aging program, I met fellow students from a variety of areas around Ohio who shared common interests of advocating for Ohio’s older adults. This was a great learning experience that carried me out of the classroom and into the community which supports the aging population of Ohio. It is my desire to consider the needs and voices of any intended user in design decisions, thus making the end results more valuable to them. My future goals are to co-design with older adults and their caregivers through problem solving, research and development.