Building a wall to keep memories in their place

Hospital stays are hard on people struggling with impaired memory. Disoriented by unfamiliar surroundings and stripped of their usual activities, elderly patients may see their mental abilities decline even as their physical problems are being treated.

To prevent deterioration in patients with memory problems, Woodstock General Hospital partnered with Fanshawe College to design and install a “cognition wall” in its complex continuing care unit. The CogWall, as it’s called, is divided into four sections, each featuring familiar objects against a background photo.

The idea is that in each section the background photo and the familiar items displayed in front of it will stir reminiscences and encourage activities that will give patients a sense of success. A photo of a 1950s kitchen, for example, is complemented with real kitchenware patients can handle. There’s a rotary-dial phone that rings periodically and when answered, plays a message. There’s a mailbox where letters can be dropped. There’s also a fishing pole and, in front of a farm scene, a tractor steering wheel and monitor mounted on the wall simulate a drive through a field for patients.

The CogWall at Woodstock General was designed by four students from Fanshawe’s Mechanical Engineering program. They also found all the material, built, and installed the wall. The students had to work through a variety of challenges and gained valuable research skills including project management, procurement, problem solving and critical thinking during the project, which ran from May to November of 2016. The CogWall was unveiled on January 31, 2017.

Since the wall was installed, the hospital has been encouraging patients with impaired memory to interact with it regularly, in hopes of improving their cognitive function and staving off memory loss. The hospital says both patients and their families are reacting positively. The CogWall has also garnered the attention of local media and has been well received by the community.

Funded by: General Research Fund, NSERC

About Fanshawe College of Applied Arts and Technology

Fanshawe College is one of the largest colleges in Ontario, with campuses located in London, Simcoe, St. Thomas, and Woodstock. The institution offers more than... Learn more