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Cognition and the Built Environment

Cognition and the Built Environment

Many researchers study the built environment and the ways in which it can impact accessibility, engagement, and quality of life for different populations. However, not much of this research has focused on the experience of individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). MCI is a relatively new diagnosis and is characterized by difficulties in memory and reasoning beyond the expected effects of aging. 

Through a collaborative project with Emory University, the SimTigrate Design Lab is studying individuals with MCI, many of whom might go on to develop Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Many of these individuals are losing their ability to function independently at home and in the community; our goal is to develop ways to make everyday life easier and more joyful for individuals with this diagnosis.


Cover of Home Design Guidelines booklet

Home Design Guidelines

The SimTigrate Design Lab team has developed a Home Design Guidelines booklet that is designed to support individuals experiencing cognitive decline so they can safely, independently, and comfortably live at home.

It provides home design strategies based on evidence, best practices, and expert recommendations to inform individuals with MCI and their care partners of effective, user-friendly design suggestions to be implemented in home environments.

These suggestions are classified into different levels of effort, ranging from relatively simple do-it-yourself strategies to major home renovations.

Cognitive Empowerment Program

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This project, funded by the Cox Foundation, is a collaboration between Emory University and Georgia Tech. The project consists of a number of initiatives:


  • Therapeutics Core
  • Built Environment Core
  • Technology Core
  • Innovation Accelerator

These components are intended to work together to build an evidence base for behavioral therapies and built environment and technology interventions for people living with MCI, with the goal of improving the everyday lives of people with MCI in the Atlanta area and around the globe.

The Empowerment Center in Executive Park in Atlanta provides an innovative setting for the day program for people with MCI. Using an open, nature-like design with lighting that can change in brightness and color, the center is a living lab that supports empowerment — not just therapy, but agency and joy — and allows the ongoing study of how people use and respond to the design of the center and for the center to be constantly improved.

The SimTigrate Design Lab runs the Built Environment Core and the Innovation Accelerator. The Built Environment Core team uses co-design and research methods such as spatial analysis and functional scenariosWe informed the design of the Empowerment Center and are expanding the focus to the design of homes and community settings.

The Innovation Accelerator works across all three CEP cores, allowing ideas to be tested quickly so they can be turned into viable solutions. For example, the IA provides annual seed grants to quickly fund and test proposed strategies, allowing some to fail quickly and the most effective to be disseminated and implemented.

Lighting, Noise, and Mild Cognitive Impairment

Recent research in the effects of lighting have shown that the spectrum of light and its intensity, duration, and distribution can have important non-visual impacts, such as increasing alertness, improving mood, and helping sleep. Similarly, characteristics of the sound environment such as background noise and positive sounds can create or reduce stress. However, little research has focused on people with MCI, and we are is studying how lighting and noise can impact cognition and alertness for people with MCI. 

Sleep Environment Guidelines

Good sleep is an important part of maintaining good health. As part of our work at the Charlie and Harriet Shaffer Cognitive Empowerment Program we have produced a series of educational videos about how home environments can support better quality sleep. You can view the complete playlist or review each individual video.


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