After working on it on and off for almost a year, we recently finished an interactive boat that serves as the centerpiece of the inner garden of the Nieuw Rijsenburgh retirement home in the Netherlands. It was named Quo Vadis, meaning “Where are you traveling?”.

Quo Vadis provides a multi-sensory interactive experience for residents of the home, many of whom suffer from dementia. We created the interactive boat because Nieuw Rijsenburgh is located on the island of Goeree-Overflakkee, and many of its’ residents spent their younger years working on the water or in the harbor, and we wanted to create familiar sensory experiences for the residents.

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We bought an old Norwegian sloop from the 1940s that was rotting away and converted it to be placed in the garden, adding a walkway, a comfy bench and most importantly, a wheelhouse.

In the wheelhouse of the boat, residents can look out over a calm sea with seagulls flying through the air. They can use the wheel to steer the boat and watch the physical compass match the new course. The wheelhouse is filled with the familiar sounds of the wooden boat creaking, the engine chugging along, the waves lapping against the boat and the seagulls calling. A vintage radio provides multiple channels of well-known Dutch fisherman’s songs and sea shanties from residents’ youths to stir their memories.

Research has shown that engaging dementia patients with familiar sensory experiences can reconnect them to old memories and activate parts of the brain not affected by their disease. Music therapy, for example, using familiar old songs, has shown to greatly increase the quality of life for many patients, making them more active and engaged, and decreasing behavioral problems. It has been very rewarding to see residents start to hum and sing along with the old songs, or start to talk about their own time working on the water.

Quo Vadis – Interactive installation for dementia patients