We know that people want to stay home as they age. This does not change for people with dementia. Staying safe at home also means staying safe in the neighbourhood. How we design both has the potential to better support people with dementia and their family members.
Ash Osborne writes in the Access Insight magazine about dementia and outdoor environments. The number of people with dementia is expected to grow. Although dementia is NOT a normal part of ageing, one in ten people over the age of 65 experience dementia. It is the single greatest cause of disability for this group. So we need to give them a bit more thought in our designs.
Osborne takes us through the key design elements that support people with dementia as well as other groups. Depth perception often changes and that means strong changes in contrast can be perceived as steps or a hole. This can lead to falls. Wiggly lines in paving and sun-cast shadows from a pergola are two cases in point. A black mat at a doorway looks like a hole in the ground.
Kiama Council in NSW has taken steps to make their community “Dementia Friendly”. The aim is to keep people connected to family and community and avoid early entry into the residential care system. The SBS News channel showcases this example on their online news page. There is also a video of the story (without closed captions).
This is very topical as the Royal Commission into Aged Care continues. “Dementia researcher Professor Richard Fleming of Wollongong University says authorities should also realise that “the built environment can be used as a form of restraint”.
The news story also discusses the role of “dementia villages” and whether they are the right way to go in the future. Perhaps the first step is to talk about people rather than patients.
This initiative would also help people with other cognitive conditions.
The online tool for Dementia Enabling Environments has a section on public buildings. A click on the Public Buildings picture takes you to a page with a floor plan. Clicking on a room in the floor plan brings up a 3D view of the room. Hovering the mouse over questions marks in the room brings up more detailed information about design ideas that are good for people with dementia. Of course, these designs are usable for almost anyone else who is ambulatory, including people with other cognitive conditions.
This is an excellent resource that takes accessibility beyond the access codes which don’t cover this level of design. The Dementia Enabling Environments tool also covers homes, care settings, and gardens and nature. There are links to other resources as well.
This website has lots of other information about dementia design. You can use the search facility on the menu, or to get you going here are eight references.