We know that dementia doesn't discriminate, with people from all different walks of life affected by the disease. The risk increases as we age, with 1 in 10 people over the age of 65 developing dementia, and a further 3 in 10 affected in the over-85 age bracket.
This can be an alienating and frightening disease. Those with dementia grapple with memory loss, difficulty maintaining focus, diminished language skills and emotional unrest. Physically, they also face a decline in their motor skills, coordination and visual perception.
On top of all this, the surroundings they'd usually take so much comfort in, like their homes, can be replaced with impersonal residential facilities or clinical hospital settings.
One of the ways to combat all this unfamiliarity is to design specific environments for people with dementia, providing comfortable and inspiring spaces not only within their homes, but in aged care facilities too.
The importance of tailored design
It's common that someone living with dementia can find it quite difficult to always make sense of their world. Design has a huge part to play in this.
Design influences behaviour, attitude and activity. It impacts the way we move and how we carry out activities - and it controls what we hear and what we can see.
For example, if a facility you're using for a loved one has features like overhead nurse call systems, shiny, heavily-patterned floors and poor colour combinations, what they'll likely see in their clients is:
- a surge in trips and falls
- increased agitation, anxiety and confusion from the over-stimulation or sometimes under-stimulation that their environment creates
It's important to design an environment that's both user-friendly and provides intuitive cues. For example, storing soap and shampoo directly below the shower head in the bathroom – or keeping a kettle visible on a kitchen surface, serving as a reminder of the steps to take when making a cup of tea.
Dementia design tips
The process of design decision-making should always be from the perspective of the person with dementia. Dementia Australia creates spaces that add value to lifestyle and provide elements of choice in everyday living. This encourages people’s level of independence so they can participate in everyday meaningful activities.
Anyone involved in dementia care can have a role in improving environments.
Consider the following when designing a space for someone with dementia:
- Be aware of visual and acoustic surroundings, and think about how physical surroundings can trigger behaviours
- Create environments that are small and home-like, ensure rooms have different functions and break down larger spaces into zones
- Ensure spaces feel relaxed and have the qualities and comforts of home – like cosy furniture, aromas of food cooking and books to read
- Design spaces that are culturally and generationally appropriate – in relation to the fittings, entertainment and everyday household items
- Reduce the impact of internal noise by turning off unnecessary devices, e.g. not leaving the TV on all day because of the assumption that people are interested
- Choose suitable floor materials, e.g. carpet and vinyl rather than tiles as these are softer materials and help to minimise noise and foot traffic
- Improve the visual interpretation of the person's space by using appropriate colour contrast
- Create an appropriate lighting level so that the person can clearly see what's around them
- Use signage that includes images so that the person can understand and be supported in their independence
- Ensure safe and easy access to outside areas, with doors to outdoor garden spaces clearly visible
These insights are merely the tip of the iceberg and there's a wealth of information and advice that Dementia Australia can provide, whether you're a carer or service provider of aged care services.
Dementia Australia colleagues include a design manager and occupational therapists who've been expertly trained in dementia design and are on-hand should you have any questions.
If you'd like to find out more about dementia design, call us on 1800 180 023.