Designing for dementia care is an increasingly prominent topic, with research from the Alzheimer’s Society(i) indicating that by 2015 more than 850,000 people in the UK will be living with the condition. This number shows no signs of decreasing; by 2025 more than 1,142,677 people in the UK will suffer from it, and by 2051 that number is likely to reach 2,092,945, which is more than the entire population of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham combined.
So, naturally the number of facilities equipped to help people suffering from this condition will need to increase to meet the demand. These types of facility have to house many residents, with varying ailments and levels of dementia. According to the same Alzheimer’s Society research, 7 out of 10 people are living with another medical condition or disability as well as dementia, which makes a one size fits all approach difficult. Having worked closely with architects and end users on dementia care projects, we’ve developed skills and expertise in this area that we’d like to share, so here are our top 5 considerations when designing for dementia care:
1. Understand the condition
It’s vitally important when designing a facility to consider the residents’ conditions, state of mind and the way they will use and interact with the building.
Dementia is an illness affecting the memory and cognitive functionality, often resulting in misinterpretations and confusion. For example, patients might misinterpret a change in floor colour as a step.
It’s confusions like this that often make a patient feel disorientated and scared, so taking these impairments and perceptions into consideration when designing a space and choosing wall and floor finishes is crucial.
2. Make the important things stand out
One key aspect of designing for dementia is making sure that anything important to the patient is highly visible. This includes things like handrails and doors.
Colour differentiation plays a key role in making these items stand out. According to Alan Dunsmore, Associate Architect at Barron and Smith Architects(ii),
“If a white door is set against a white wall then many dementia sufferers will simply ignore it”.
This tactic works well in diverting patients away from inaccessible areas, such as staff offices or plant areas. However, bold and distinctive colours are then used to highlight the items residents should notice or use, such as doorways and handrails.
As well as being a physical support for patients, handrails can be considered a psychological support too, making a patient feel more secure and confident on their feet.
Discover how designers at Warrington Hospital used Acrovyn to help make key building components stand out to patients.
3. Reminiscence Therapy
Currently one of the leading therapeutic approaches in dementia care, reminiscence therapy helps patients communicate both with other sufferers and with their carer. As dementia mainly affects short term memory, reminiscence therapy gets patients to use their long term memory and recall stories from their past. The main advantage of reminiscence therapy, according to Martina Kane(iii) of the Alzheimer’s Society, is “…that it’s really person-centred, it can be very individualised” and it also helps the carers to see past the disease and really get to know their patients.
One design trend that lends itself really well to reminiscence therapy, and seems to have had positive results in both dementia care and mental health environments, is the careful use of imagery on interior walls and doors. This imagery doesn’t just stop at signage – with advancements in printing technology you can print on almost anything. In some cases parts of walls have featured local scenery such as woodlands or sea views, as well as historical images of the local area, transporting residents back to a place or time that they knew, and facilitating the reminiscing process.
A great example of this is a selection of artworks celebrating the history and culture of Reading created by Willis Newson and artist Linda Schwab are integrated into the refurbishment of Oakwood Unit for West Berkshire NHS Trust (see image above). The artworks, incorporated within CS Acrovyn by Design have become conversation pieces that spark engagement between elderly patients, visitors and staff. As well as improving communication, the thematically-linked artworks support wayfinding. (Photo: Clint Randall)
Multiple studies have shown that imagery can serve patients as a positive distraction, with nature elements proving especially effective at reducing stress and promoting wellness.
Discover the impact Acrovyn by Design imagery had on the patients at the Oakwood Dementia Unit.
4. Design to last
Of course, with many residents requiring walking aids or wheelchairs, it’s important that floor and wall finishes stay looking good, without seeming too clinical and institutional.
Impact resistant wall protection sheet and panel systems provide a cost-effective way to create a long-lasting and welcoming environment, plus they’re easy to clean and are robust enough to cope with every day wear and tear.
These products come in an array of colours and finishes to help minimise the institutional feel of a space, and in some cases feature artwork or photos, turning an image into a protective surface.
5. Wandering with a purpose
Dementia patients often feel the urge to wander about, and more often than not forget where they are going or how to get back.
In recent years dementia units have often been designed to facilitate ‘wandering with a purpose’ providing residents with a destination or somewhere to focus on. For example, a corridor might have a communal area set up at the end of the corridor to give residents a place to walk to.
In some cases interesting imagery has been included or a library setup at the end of a corridor, helping to entice the residents to move around independently.
With the projected increase in the number of dementia sufferers, the demand for homes that offer both independent living and residential care is sure to grow. These facilities must ensure older people with a wide range of care needs feel at home, and are kept safe and secure. This requires considered interior design and careful selection of interior finishes.
Fortunately, there is a wide range of high-performance products on the market that can be used to create welcoming, comfortable and stress-free environments, without compromising on hygiene or resident safety, and that can reduce maintenance and whole-life costs.
For information on our range of protective products suitable for Dementia Care homes, please get in touch:
- phone: +44 (0)1296 652800
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Alzheimers Society – Statistics – http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=341&categoryID=200120
- co.uk – Designing for Dementia – http://www.building.co.uk/designing-for-dementia/5071439.article
- co.uk – The old photos helping trigger memories in people with dementia – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29596805
Our post originally featured on the RIBA Product Selector Blog