The Environmental Experience of Shopping with Cognitive Impairment


  • Dianne Smith Queensland University of Technology
  • Barbara Adkins Queensland University of Technology



Interior design, Environmental experience, Cognitive impairment


The environmental experience of shopping was used as a vehicle to research the experience of complex or non-residential environments for people with cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment is defined here as a condition by which an individual’s cognitive processes have become altered for some reason. Such conditions may result, for example, from acquired brain injury, dementia, and/or substance abuse. The objective of the study was to ascertain through the investigation (a) the experience of shopping from the person with cognitive impairment’s perspective; (b) the impact or the role of the physical environment

in that experience; and (c) the implications for designers of public places such as interior designers, architects, and landscape architects. Therefore, an ethnographic investigation?of four individuals’ experiences was undertaken by accompanying them on a shopping expedition to an environment they nominated as being very familiar to them. The findings highlight the role of environmental mediation in the experience of the person with cognitive impairment. Spatial layout, environmental containment, spatial positioning, environmental triggers, and signage are all revealed to influence the environmental experience. In addition, spatial understanding, environmental constancy, environmental stimulation, and a sense-of- knowing were also revealed to be important. The participants with cognitive impairment exist in a state of continual and conscious negotiation when in public spaces. The environment sometimes acted as a facilitator in order to help the participant cope with the situation and achieve goals, while at other times the physical environment was shown to be limiting or obstructive. This information is important for designers of public spaces due to the increasing numbers of people with cognitive impairment using such spaces.


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How to Cite

Smith, Dianne, and Barbara Adkins. 2018. “The Environmental Experience of Shopping With Cognitive Impairment”. Idea Journal 7 (1):72-86.



Design Research Paper