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News archive - July 2013

Secret to dementia design is in the detail

Secret to dementia design is in the detail

The secret to designing fit-for-purpose facilities for people with dementia is to pay attention to the smaller details, experts said.

Better toilet facilities, consistent floor colours and access to nature and fresh air are imperative when creating safe and inspirational hospital and social care environments for sufferers.

These key factors will be central to guidance currently being drawn up by Emeritus Professor Mary Marshall of the University of Stirling.

She said: “When designing environments for people with dementia you are looking at an extremely complex set of impairments, from a loss of memory and the ability to learn, to problems with perception and reasoning, and also high levels of stress and anxiety, and all of these are in addition to the usual problems associated with old age such as sight and hearing problems.

“The remedy, in terms of design, is in the attention to detail.”

The guidance will create a design manual that will look at the key considerations for creators of buildings and the products installed within them.

It calls for ‘simple spaces’ with noise reduction panels and soft furnishings.

Professor Marshall said: “Most dementia care environments are too noisy, particularly dining rooms. They can have the effect of making people anxious and upset and they either act out or they become withdrawn.”

The findings of her early research also cover floor coverings, which should be consistent in both colour and texture.

“This is really important, because a change in floor colour to someone with perception problems can look like a step and they can hesitate and maybe fall,” she explained.

A breath of fresh air

The need to access outside spaces is also underestimated, her research has found.

“No access to fresh air or the outside means people get restless and frustrated and they are deprived of sunlight, which leads to a lack of vitamin D and their muscles are less effective and they are more likely to fall and their bones to break. Research has also shown that exercise can reduce some of the symptoms of dementia.” Improved toilets are another key consideration, with an increase in availability, clear signage featuring both words and pictures, and contrasting toilet seat colours to help overcome perception problems.

The need for design improvements was supported by Sarah Waller, programme director of the King’s Fund’s Enhancing the Health Environment programme. It has helped dozens of hospitals up and down the country to improve accommodation for people with dementia.

She said: “The environment really does matter. Sometimes the projects we have been involved with don’t just change environments, they change lives.

“It is about helping people to know where they are, helping them to find their bed area, and giving them something familiar to do or to look at. It’s the little things that can make an enormous difference.”

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