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Study to measure effects of indoor environment on resident agitation

Researchers are currently investigating the link between agitation in residents with dementia and elements of their indoor environment, such as temperature and humidity, with the aim of developing new aged care sector guidelines.

Professor Paul Cooper, director of the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) at University of Wollongong told the Aged and Community Services NSW & ACT state conference on Thursday that the study sought to marry the well-established knowledge base on dementia-friendly design with sustainability.

The research, which is a collaboration between the Univeristy of Wollongong and NSW aged care provider Warrigal, was being conducted by PhD student Federico Tartarini with the support of the SBRC and Professor Richard Fleming, an expert on dementia design.

“We are looking at whether there is a correlation between thermal discomfort and agitation in dementia facilities,” said Professor Cooper.

While it was known that temperature can affect behaviour, the impact of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) on resident and staff wellbeing was poorly understood.

Using unobtrusive sensors, the researchers will measure the IEQ of the facility including acoustics, lighting, thermal comfort, air quality and velocity. The study will also examine how optimal IEQ be achieved in an efficient way, he said.

Professor Cooper said the project would develop guidelines to plan future retrofitting projects and to improve the design of residential facilities.

In addition to this study, the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre was also involved in a $2.3 million government-funded energy efficiency project targeting low-income older households, including independent living units.

The program called Energy Efficiency in the 3rd Age combines a social marketing and education campaign to change behaviour with retrofitting of older people’s homes to reduce energy bills and improve their quality of life.

Warrigal, IRT and the Royal Freemasons Benevolent Institution were also taking part in the collaborative project in the greater Illawarra region, which had recruited 830 households and a control group of 600.

Professor Cooper said the economic, functional and ecological value of energy efficiency was found to be important to older people.

Initial focus group research to determine older people’s attitudes to energy efficiency had identified older people fall in to four categories – frugal eco-warriors (45 per cent), value opportunists (17 per cent), ambivalent (23 per cent) and indecisive.

“People worry about money; the economic value is really important to householders and the functional value – how they could better use their homes.”

Supplementing the community education and myth-busting campaign is a large project of household audits and energy efficiency retrofits to improve the sustainability of people’s homes.

“We have a range of energy efficiency retrofits, such as installing a solar hot water system or heat pump water system, draught ceiling, ceiling insulation, a new fridge or heating and cooling system,” he said.

“In all of this process we’re interacting with this vulnerable community informed by our aged care partners. We’re also intensively monitoring 40 of the households to really understand in greater detail how people use their homes. For example, how much energy is being used by their fridge or their air conditioning system.”

The project is due to be completed in 2016.

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