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Living With Dementia Demands Better Design

Living With Dementia Demands Better Design

Photo: Entrance of a care home 

New research has revealed how design can improve the quality of life for people with dementia. The researchers hope that it will form a blueprint for future building, lay-out and management of care homes.

The project, called ‘Living with Dementia: Can Design Make a Difference?' was led by Hilary Dalke, Director of the Design Research Centre at Kingston University. After visiting nineteen care homes and studying their architecture, décor, layout, gardens and lighting, the Kingston team has drawn up a blueprint for future care home design.

The team was impressed by homes that included shops, cafes and even, in one, a ‘pub' and also came to the conclusion that gardens should be designed to encourage residents to keep active. Greenhouses needed to be accessible for wheelchair users, while raised beds allowed people with limited mobility to grow flowers and vegetables. Less mobile residents appreciated different types of bird feeders and even cats and chickens on site.

Entrances to care homes should be designed with visitors in mind, according to Dalke. "It's important that the relatives feel positive, otherwise visiting drops off," she explained. "One lady told us she was disturbed by a very intense sensory room that her mother was encouraged to use. When the relative entered she said she was left feeling as if she had dementia herself."

Residents should be aware of ordinary activities such as cooking and laundry going on around them. Sam Cole, who is currently studying product and furniture design at Kingston and was involved in the project, designed a tea bar where visitors could sit with their relative and chat. "Things like making a cup of tea safely for a guest can help people with dementia remember a normal life," he said.

Design of stimulating activities is a priority. In one care home, the team observed old engine parts laid out on a table. "Some men appreciated the connections with their previous working life," Dalke said. "Parts disappeared and staff found they had been taken back to their rooms." Elsewhere bookcases and televisions created a homely environment, even if the residents weren't able to read books or watch TV. The team urged developers to design spaces with plenty of natural light and sheltered outdoor seating.

She concluded: "Many care home professionals believe that a building with a lack of design for independent living can itself cause a rapid decline for residents with Alzheimer's disease. People who have been moved to a more stimulating home have shown significant improvement in their physical or mental condition that was not directly attributable to greater luxury or more staff."; Source: Kingston University

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