Wheel Lock Extenders for Alzheimers

We have a patient with Alzheimer’s disease living in a memory care unit. He has had multiple falls, and the care staff and the patients family would like for the patient to get a wheelchair. One of the main concerns that the family has about the patient is that he may not remember to put on his wheel locks, which could cause further falls. The patients daughter stated that she had heard that the last color that is easily identified by the elderly is yellow, and was wondering if we could make the brake handles yellow.

The standard brake extender is dark grey with a black cap.

This is the same color as the chair, which makes it blend in. According to an article on http://www.ideasinstitute.org/article_021103_b.asp, there should be a variation of at least 2 levels of lightness or darkness in order for most people to be able to differentiate between the colors.

“When using colors as part of an orientation cue system, remember that older individuals have a harder time distinguishing between colors in the cooler range-blues and greens particularly. Also, many individuals are color blind and have a hard time distinguishing between red and green. Therefore, color is not probably appropriate as the sole differentiating feature between different elements-they should vary in other design features as well. Varying the value of colors (the lightness or darkness) by at least 2 levels on a 10 level gray scale will enable most people will be able to differentiate between the colors.”

On the wheel lock extenders, the best way to maximize the ease of use is to press or pull on the top of the extender, allowing the patient to utilize a greater mechanical advantage due to the leverage it provides. Instead of coloring the entire brake extender, I chose to emphasize the part of the wheel lock extender that I wanted the patient to use.

“Emphasize what’s important. Within any setting, there are some elements that carry important information, such as orientation cues, or views to interesting vistas or activity areas. Pay close attention to those elements that have the potential to provide useful information to the cognitively impaired individual, and give these more emphasis with brighter colors (using hue, value and chroma), higher contrast with the background, and more light.”

Yellow may not be perceived as being yellow by the patient, but it is does provide a high level of contrast in hue, value and chroma. By having the handles such a bright color, it should catch the patients attention, and remind him that he needs to use his wheel locks.

At first I attempted to color the brake handle extenders with yellow spray paint, however the finish is designed to resist stains, so the paint dried to a flaky finish and peeled off. I then decided to switch to a product called Plasti-Dip, as when properly used it sticks to pretty much anything, while providing a texture that is easy to grip.

There was no extra cost to the patient or his family for this alteration. It is just another way for Howards Medical to show that we treat all of our customers like family.

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Brawley, E. (1997). Designing for Alzheimer’s Disease. New York: Wiley Press.
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Rizzo, M., Anderson, S., Dawson, J. & Nawrot, M. (2000). Vision and cognition in Alzheiemr’s Disease. Neuropsychologia 38(8): 1157-1169.
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