Pacifica Senior Living Blog

How Color Can Affect our Memory

Jan 30, 2023 10:13:49 AM / by Carly Dodd, Pacifica Senior Living

Memory and our Senses

Memory is one of the most fascinating and complicated processes that occurs within the human brain. As the world population continues to age, more and more research has been done surrounding our memory, and the ways in which we can boost memories, recall them, or delay memory loss.

Our senses are intricately linked to our sense of memory. Most of us have experienced the sensation of having a smell instantly conjure up a memory, or trigger a recollection from our past. Similarly, music and sound has been found to run deep within our psyche, and can be used to trigger memories - even in those suffering from severe memory loss or types of dementia.

The Importance of Color in Memory

Color, too, can play an important part in our memory. Research has shown that certain colors can help us retain information more easily or more readily - this is especially apparent when learning new things. Children, for example, quickly learn to associate red colors with attention, alerts, or important information. As we age, colors can continue to be helpful when learning new concepts, ideas, formulas, or theories, as they help us take in information and associate it with similar ideas.

When it comes to Memory Care and aiding those with memory loss - such as individuals with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or cognitive impairments, color can play a key role in triggering memory and creating patterns and associations to help form a sense of familiarity and understanding.

Memory is vital to living an independent lifestyle, maintaining focus, and completing the tasks of daily living. Connections have been found that emphasize the importance of color in improving and maintaining memory functions.

What do Studies Say About Color and Memory?

According to a study The Influence of Colour on Memory Performance: A Review by Mariam Adawiah Dzulkifli and Muhammad Faiz Mustafar found in the National Library of Medicine, “Color is believed to be the most important visual experience to human beings.” Studies have proven the connection between colors and enhanced memory performance.
Similarly, The Encyclopedia of Memory and Memory Disorders by Carol Turkington and Joseph Harris explains how visualizing a color can help reinforce visual memory. 

Art Therapy and Memory

Art therapy has been shown to activate the limbic system within our brains. This region is associated with memory retention, and helps us hold on to information and store it for later use.  Improving Memory Through Creativity by Amanda Pike discusses a study in which a variety of seniors from around the world participated in art therapy over a ten week period. The participants of the study reported improved cognitive skills in contrast to those who did not experience art therapy.

Art, and creative exercises such as crafting, painting, and experimenting with color can help us to reconcile our emotions and calm anxieties often associated with memory loss. Not only can art help to stimulate the part of our brain that stores memories, but it can also work to calm frustrations and anxieties that come along with memory loss. It also facilitates connections with others, and allows those with memory loss to experience a sense of control and choice, which is often lacking in other areas of their life.

a resident of Pacifica Senior Living shows off some paintings

Colors and Their Effects

While color in general can help stimulate memory, certain colors are generally associated with specific emotions or feelings. Every individual may have memories associated with specific visual stimulates, but generalized associations can be drawn from certain color palettes.

The Secret Language of Colors by Inna Segal dives into some of the associations. She found that Mauve and Lemon were acificacificaificacaparticularly helpful colors in terms of memory improvement and concentration. Lemon yellow has been linked to warmth, sunshine, and intellect, which can help in concentration and decision making. Mauve on the other hand has long been associated with calmness and a tranquil atmosphere. It boosts memory and brain activity while also creating balance and calm - one of the many reasons mauve is a popular color in the Memory Care and Senior Living industry.

A study from the University of British Columbia also found connections between both blue and red and increased memory retention. Both of these colors “enhan[ce] cognitive skills and improv[ve] brain function”. Red was particularly useful in detail-oriented situations. 

Using Color in Memory Care 

It is important to understand how color can be used to assist Memory Care and aid in memory retention. Different colors can be used in different ways, depending on the desired outcome.
Creating a calm living space may rely on the use of soft purples and blues which are associated with wisdom, peace, knowledge, trust, and calm. For information, delivering details with yellow for clarity and positivity, or red for attention, can help information to stick.

Pairing this knowledge of color with art therapy sessions can help to both stimulate memory in those with memory loss conditions, and ease anxieties and discomfort that comes with cognitive decline.

Our Pacifica Senior Living and Aura Collection communities use art therapy as a major part of your memory care programing. Painting, crafting, and creative classes are a staple of our daily and weekly activity calendars, and memory care residents are encouraged to participate and exercise their sense of choice and creativity.

We also use color in our Namaste program, which is used as a calming space for those with Memory Care who may be experiencing anxiety or agitation. We pair calming, soothing colors with low lighting, soothing music, and aromatherapy in order to create the best possible environment for our residents.

Want to learn more about our Memory Care programs? Come visit your local community, or check out our memory care section of the blog. You can also reach out to us with any questions, we’d be happy to help you along your journey.

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Tags: Memory Care