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News archive - May 2014

A five-point approach to designing dementia environments

A five-point approach to designing dementia environments

Care homes for people with dementia should be designed to be comfortable, homely, small, personal and safe, according to experts at the 2014 Care Show in Birmingham last month.

Speaking as part of a conference within the Dementia Zone at the event, Liz Fuggle, an architect at BPA Architects, said the five-pronged design approach was vital to ensuring residents feel relaxed in their environment, and to cut down on stress and anxiety.

“We find when we look at some dementia care facilities that it is the environment that often holds people back and we have a real responsibility to find out where these anomalies are and to do something about them,” she said.

Tim Lynch of landscape architects and design practice, Tim Lynch Associates, added: “There is so much more that can be done, but at the moment it does not seem to be top of people’s agenda. It is about trying to keep everything appearing normal, rather than creating something that is architecturally amazing.

“We need to create a sense of normality within a safe environment.”

Keeping it simple

Fixtures, fittings and furniture that people with dementia can recognise is vital.

Eda Brooks, project director at Access 21 Care Interiors, said: “The key is to make the environment homely. More and more we are being asked to make care homes look like hotels, but by their very nature they are impersonal.

“Everyone is an individual and reacts differently. We need to think carefully about what we use and how we use it. We make a lot of assumptions and we need to involve residents and their families and carers more. Small things can make a big difference.”

Colour is important, as it can help people with dementia, who often have visual impairments, to make sense of their surroundings. Tonal contrast is particularly vital, as differentiating between doors, toilets seats, toilet roll and other essential furniture can help to avoid confusion and the resulting anxiety and challenging behaviour this can lead to. Reducing colour differences on floors can also result in fewer trips and falls, research has shown.

While public areas like receptions and kitchens can be branded, the panel said all residential areas should reflect the person’s normal home environment.

Fuggle said: “Don’t go and buy a big new suite of furniture that is different to what the person is used to at home. Use the same furniture and adapt it in small ways.”

Avoiding confusion

Brooks added: “There is a tendency to introduce period pieces such as sweet shops, bus stops and similar, but often these are just for show. It is very frustrating for people with dementia so we need to think carefully about this approach. We need things that are not just a façade, but that actually operate as they are meant to.”

Good acoustics to mitigate environmental noise, and interesting outdoor spaces to which residents have access was also top of the agenda.

Lynch said: “We need to ensure doors are clearly doors, not large expanses of glass so that people with dementia can find their way back in.

“There is a real lack of genuine understanding of what good external spaces cost. A good garden isn’t just for Christmas, so it requires a level of commitment from staff, families and the community.”



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