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News archive - July 2015

Supporting dementia sufferers through design

Supporting dementia sufferers through design

Dementia-friendly environments are becoming increasingly common across the UK as hospitals and care operators begin to better understand the very-specific needs of sufferers.

Every element of this environment needs to be carefully considered, with particular focus on lighting, furniture choice, colour palette, and signage and wayfinding.

“It’s not just about choosing a nice bit of furniture,” explains Gaius Owen, group business consultant for the environment at Nursing Hygiene Group (NHG), a care consumables, equipment and environment consultancy.

“It’s the whole environment that needs to be considered in order to enhance the lives of people with dementia.”

Unlike many illnesses, where symptoms are often similar in most cases, dementia can cause a wide spectrum and these differ greatly between each person.

This makes planning dementia environments all the more difficult and means design must be flexible.

“There is no one specific illness when it comes to dementia,” said Owen. “There are certain commonalities, but what works for one person does not necessarily work for another.”

A matter of choice

Wayfinding and signage is crucial, with signs needing to have both words and pictures on, clearly denoting what goes on within a certain area. Individual bedrooms can then have memory boxes or more-personal signage so residents know where to go.

Once inside the bedroom, close attention must be paid to furniture choice.

Many manufacturers offer storage cupboards, wardrobes and units with either open frontages or with built-in glass of Perspex ‘windows’ that enable residents to see exactly what is inside. However, glass is becoming less common as the resulting reflections can confuse and scare residents who may think someone is in their room.

“People with dementia tend to stay in their rooms more, so overall furniture needs to be comfortable and practical,” said NHG designer, Victoria Lloyd.

“Furniture must also contrast with the flooring and walls as many people with dementia also have visual impairments.”

Seating should contrast with the colour of the floors and walls and should be made of waterproof vinyl upholstery as many dementia sufferers are incontinent. Some manufacturers use contrasting piping on chairs, but residents tend to pick at this.

Coffee tables and occasional tables need to have smooth corners with no sharp edges. Accessories can also help to denote the nature of a room. For example, a fireplace will be associated with a living space.

“There is no definitive solution and there are a lot of grey areas in the sense that every person’s brain deteriorates in a different way and everyone reacts to things differently,” said Lloyd.

“What we are doing as designers is creating solutions that encourage people with dementia to do more things for themselves. Before they may not have been able to do certain things, but by understanding their needs and making changes to the environment we can reduce confusion and frustration.”

Flexibility is a must

Knightsbridge Furniture has a dedicated dementia care range. Speaking to hdm, its specialist designer, Catherine Hawcroft, said: “When designing for dementia care environments it is more important to consider the similarities rather than the differences.

“Furniture needs to be flexible, attractive and versatile to allow it to be specified for use by a wide range of people at different stages in the development of the condition.”

For those with occipital lobe damage, which causes visual impairment within the brain, environments should provide a 30-point Light Reflectance Value (LRV) difference for contrast. This tonal difference can be used to highlight ‘sitting’ and ‘grabbing’ areas, the edges of tables or other boundaries such as around doors and drawers.

Hawcroft said: “Avoid large or busy patterns, which might ‘swim’ for some users, and can prove confusing or distressing. Flecked patterns on worktops can also be problematic as it can look like dirt, which a user with short-term memory problems will repeatedly try to clean off, causing frustration and upset.”

Furniture must be hardwearing and solidly built, with easy-to-grip arms, skids on dining chairs, and sturdy arms and backs.

“Dementia design is a relatively-young field and in the last five years we have seen a huge growth in interest in how good design can provide support for users and carers,” said Hawcroft.

“As the field grows and we develop a better understanding of the needs of people living with dementia, we are able to focus more on quality of life and the importance of details, such as choosing the right fabrics, specifying a wide variety of products, and combining these with other aspects of the care environment.

“By putting users at the centre of the design process and considering their needs and feelings throughout ensures we can design furniture which can be a hugely supportive element.”

Thinking ahead

This approach to interior design and furniture was recently used at a care home in South Cerney.

Designed by SpaceZero, the 64-bed facility now has a dementia-friendly interior that is helping to support residents to live more independently for longer.

Senior interior designer, Kristina Mann, said: “Traditionally choice of interiors has been a largely financial decision, but this is also going to be someone’s home.

“It’s about thinking outside the box and not just going with the typical. You can still have a homely, fresh environment, but one that works much better for people with dementia.”

The palette chosen for the South Cerney facility is quite vibrant, but furniture and floor and wall coverings have been picked to provide much-needed contrast. Colour has also been used within corridors and communal spaces and objects such as old-style music systems are in abundance.

Mann said: “I went on an eye-opening dementia design course and the teachers made us wear glasses with Vaseline on the lenses to show how disorientating it is to have dementia.

“We had a make a cup of coffee and it was like looking into a black pool. You don’t realise until you have that experience, but it is very eye opening and it’s what we need to think about when we design dementia care environments in the future.”



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