The saliency of geographical landmarks for community navigation: A photovoice study with persons living with dementia

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Dementia, Ahead of Print.
This study uses the photovoice method to explore how persons living with mild-to-moderate dementia perceive neighborhood landmarks and identify characteristics that render these landmarks salient for outdoor navigation. Previous research has highlighted the role of well-designed, stable geographical landmarks in improving the navigability of neighborhoods for persons living with dementia. However, the specific attributes that render landmarks salient have not yet been sufficiently explored, resulting in inadequate evidence-based environmental design guidelines for dementia-friendly communities. To address this gap, a photovoice study was conducted with five community-dwelling persons living with dementia and their care partners, as part of a dementia-friendly neighborhood walking program in the city of Seattle, USA. Photovoice facilitated the exploration of saliency of neighborhood landmarks from an emic perspective by (i) empowering persons living with dementia to identify and take photos of salient landmarks during the group walk and (ii) interpret and reflect on attributes that contributed to saliency using the photos as visual aids in a focus group discussion and survey questionnaire. Participants associated the saliency of landmarks with two groups of attributes: (i) visual distinctiveness, which encompassed physical aspects, such as size, shape, color, texture; and (ii) meaningfulness, which included subjective factors of personal and emotional significance that linked the landmarks to participants’ pasts, passions, hobbies, and emotions related to having dementia. Findings suggest that outdoor landmarks should be designed for maximum legibility and noticeability, as well as familiarity, recognizability, and memorability. The evidence from this research also points to the likely positive effect of salient neighborhood landmarks on the community navigation of persons living with dementia.

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