"I wonder what the research is on the use of color and dementia?"


That was the question that popped into my mind when my mother was -- rather suddenly -- transferred from independent living to a (very beige) special care unit for people living with dementia. I had just completed a series of color seminars offered by IACC (International Association of Color Consultants and Designers) and was looking for a thesis topic idea which would enable me to complete the accreditation. With a stroke of good fortune I gained access to a local university library where I began reviewing and collecting studies on color and dementia, color in psychology and architecture, environments for people living with dementia and healthcare environments in general. 

What were my conclusions after reviewing hundreds of findings?  That we know very little for certain, and that color is complicated to study. Nonetheless, there is much to learn from reading even flawed studies; they give us new questions and points-of-view to ponder, references --- not to mention ideas for research! 


One study in particular caught my attention because the findings dovetailed with my own approach to using color.  Most notably, it presented an alternative to what I've termed the "Hue Paradigm", the approach used by most people when they think and talk about color (i.e., red is stimulating, blue is calming, yellow is energizing, etc. ) .  Once I understood the new paradigm I began to notice other researchers tuning into the same phenomenon, and this observation paved the way for my own study, "Beyond Hue: Affective Response and the Value-Chroma Paradigm." 


The study, which is currently in the editorial phase, supports the idea that people's response to color may be as much a function of value and chroma as it is of hue, a finding which, if supported by future research, has implications for color designers and also for design education. It further suggests that if we are to move forward in our understanding of color in the built environment (which seems to defy being studied in an experimental lab), it is time we get creative about our methods, broadening them to include qualitative approaches as well. 


My mother's health condition ushered her into a space whose walls were the outer boundaries of her diminished world, There are many people like her who have no voice or choice about being admitted to a healthcare environment.  Designers owe it to them to be more thoughtful and evidence-based in their decisions about color, and it is my hope that this study will bring us one step closer to doing this. 

I will be presenting my research at the Color Impact 2021 conference to be held in June 2021, on the Yale University Campus in New Haven, CT.  Anyone can attend this conference which brings together presenters covering color in art, science, education and the environment. Stay tuned for details!

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