Project on Therapeutic Environments for Alzheimer’s Patients Wins High Awards
By Christopher Cussat
On the evening of May 2, 2013, graduating seniors from La Roche College’s (La Roche) graphic and interior design programs presented their finest work at the College’s Senior Portfolio Show at the Cultural Trust Education Building in downtown Pittsburgh.
A total of 22 students presented professional portfolios consisting of design projects completed at La Roche or through internships and freelance work. Graphic and interior design professionals, La Roche alumni, and high school art teachers were invited to attend the event.
Neha Agarwal, assistant professor and chair of the La Roche graphic design department, said the event showcased the talents of graduating students and provided networking opportunities for design professionals. “The Senior Portfolio Show provides an opportunity for professionals to connect with potential new hires,” she added. “It also allows alumni to stay up-to-date on our design programs, sets a standard for upcoming graduates, and gives prospective high school students a chance to learn about the opportunities the La Roche design programs offer.”
The Interior Design Advisory Board presented the International Design Educational Achievement Award to one outstanding senior, along with second and third place awards. La Roche’s graphic design department also presented top portfolio awards to students selected by La Roche faculty. In addition, winners announced at the Portfolio Show received monetary awards.
Molly Podplesky graduated in May from La Roche with a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design and a Visual Communications minor. Her project on “Therapeutic Environments for Alzheimer’s Patients” won The Richard G. Kotarba Outstanding Honors Presentation Award, as well as Second Place for the IDEA (Interior Design Education Award) presented by the La Roche College Interior Design Advisory Board in 2013.
Podplesky’s inspiration for her project had personal roots. Even though her grandfather passed away when she was very young, Podplesky still loves hearing stories about him. “It is difficult, however, to hear about the struggles that my family endured while he fought a battle with Alzheimer’s disease—but these stories are what sparked my interest in wondering if there was anything that I could do to help other families also dealing with this heartbreaking disease.”
When faced with a research project for her Senior Seminar, Podplesky decided that this was the opportune time to learn about how interior designers can play a role in the lives of Alzheimer’s patients and their families. “I believe that by understanding the challenges of Alzheimer’s disease, designers can apply creative solutions to a building’s interior to influence how patients feel and react,” she added.
While working on her project, Podplesky found that during this time of immense research, scientists’ growing understanding of neuroscience has influenced a new paradigm of focusing on minimizing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease rather than focusing only on searching for a cure. “Emphasis is now being placed on non-pharmacological treatments to minimize the symptoms and enhance the patient’s quality of life, and numerous therapies are utilized as non-pharmacological treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.”
The research question she focused on was: “How can the design of appropriate physical environments ease the challenges and suffering to enhance the quality of life for, most importantly, Alzheimer’s patients but also for their families and for their caregivers?” The most succinct answer Podplesky determined in her findings was that Alzheimer’s disease, though incurable, is not untreatable. “By understanding how brain damage changes perception, interior designers can appropriately design the building for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease,” she explained.
Lastly, Podplesky noted that she found the following quote from Elizabeth Brawley especially inspirational throughout her project: “There is great excitement about the reasoning minds of science partnering with the creative minds of architecture and design, exploring pathways to better treatments and solutions—this partnership of science and design is creating excitement and hope that living with Alzheimer’s disease is far from a hopeless condition.”
Podplesky recently accepted a full-time position and has been working as a designer at Kolano Design, a Pittsburgh visual marketing firm with expertise in graphics, signage, and interiors.