Remembering to be dementia-friendly

A yellow notepad with the word Remember. Dementia friendly resources. Here are some good resources for considering people with dementia in designs. The topic of dementia can also include people with acquired brain injury and other cognitive conditions at any age. They’ve been collected from this website for ready reference. Too many good publications are soon forgotten after their launch.

Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool – a community assessment tool.

Dementia Friendly Home Design – this one from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland – very well researched.

Dementia friendly hospitals from a universal design approach – another from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland.

Age and Dementia Streetscapes Toolkit – based on participatory action research.

On being outdoors: How people with dementia experience and deal with vulnerabilities – a participatory research method using ‘go-along-walking’.

Dementia Friendly Homes – an app from Dementia Australia.

Designing Homes with Dementia in Mind – research from Aalborg University.

Doors Opening, Doors Closing

A chrome lever door handle with the door ajar. The door is timberRichard Duncan takes a look at doors and entrances to homes to show the various ways in which universal design thinking can make doorways more convenient for everyone. The article covers every aspect of doors in detail and has several pictures that illustrate how thoughtful door design and door handles can make a world of difference for all members of the family and for visitors too. A nice presentation of practical detail for this one home element. There will be some things not everyone will have thought about. Worth a look.  

UD in housing: Better Living Design webinar

A single storey home with a footpath out front. Caption underneath says, " Change how consumers perceive great design".Richard Duncan from the RL Mace Universal Design Institute presents a 50 minute webinar on universal design in housing. The first 20 minutes covers the basics such as demographics. At the 19 minute mark he starts to show the misconceptions about how some people think UD might look in a home and then goes on to show what UD should really be about. It’s a bit long winded, but you can forward the video to the parts you want. One of the key messages in the video is the comparison of wheelchair specific design, which is what some people think UD is, and mainstream family home design with UD features. This is part of their Better Living Design project.


It’s not wet, just shiny

A large arched window lets in light. It has struts that cast line shadows over the floorA shiny floor may not be wet but it could look that way to someone with dementia. A black mat isn’t a hole in the ground either. And shadows of lattice through a window can look like steps. Mono coloured features are hard to distinguish too. This is what some people with dementia and other cognitive conditions perceive.

These design details can easily be overcome with some extra thought about perception at the early design stage, or adapted in existing homes and buildings. The Guardian has an excellent article about these issues. It discusses how virtual reality software can bring more awareness to designers about these issues as well as the concepts of universal design. Dementia affects the ability to navigate the environment successfully because of changes in visual perception.

Editor’s note: taking photos of places and seeing them in two dimensions instead of three really highlights the perception differences.

hallway with lighting across the floor making it look like steps corridor with a shiny floor, brightly lit, but it looks wet









Dementia Friendly Home

A turquoise background with a black owl graphic features on the front page of the appDementia Australia has produced an app for tablets and smartphones to help with creating a dementia-friendly home. It uses interactive 3D game technology which provides carers with ideas on how to make the home more suitable for people living with dementia. Most people with dementia live in the community and many enjoy everyday activities and stay engaged with their communities. Suitable home design is key to staying active and involved.

The App is based on the ten Dementia Enabling Environments Principles and prompts carers and others to think about many of the small inexpensive ideas that can make a big difference. Technology solutions such as sensors for lighting are also covered. Tips include removing clutter and changing busy patterned wall or floor coverings to help with perception and confusion. You can also see some of the research underpinning the Dementia Enabling Environments Principles. 

Housing for Life Guidelines

Front cover of handbook showing a drawing of a house. Housing for Life Guidelines.Although more than ten years old, Housing for Life the principles still hold. That’s because universal design principles are timeless. There’s the usual attention to access, circulation spaces, and fittings. It also includes thermal comfort, security, lighting, operating controls and maintenance. Lots of diagrams and drawings help with explanations from a builder/designer perspective. There is also a handy metric conversion chart for people still using imperial measures. Master Builders Association ACT developed the guide with funding from Commonwealth Department of Veteran Affairs.

Other handbooks include:

Go to the Housing Design Guidelines section on this website for more about kitchens, bathrooms, lighting and other aspects of home design.  

Editor’s Note: Housing for Life is not readily available online. The link to this copy is from my files.  It is available through the National Library of Australia (Trove) if you want hard copy. Or you can try the MBA ACT.  The references to the Adaptable Housing Standard are less relevant now – see more recent guidelines.

Universal Design in Housing

Front cover of book showing lots of different sized and coloured cubes stacked. The title banner is in dark yellow For anyone not familiar with the movement for universal design in housing, Introduction to Housing has a chapter that gives a really good overview of how to incorporate UD into the design. It covers each of the design features and explains that they can be factored into moderately sized homes. The chapter addresses each of the classic principles of universal design and how they apply to housing design. A case study illustrates the features. As with many Google Books, many of the pages are freely available, but for the full chapter you will need to contact the authors, Hartje, Ewen and Tremblay or purchase the book.

Introduction to Housing, 2nd edition, is edited by Katrin B. Anacker, Andrew T. Carswell, Sarah D. Kirby, Kenneth R. Tremblay. 

A tiny house can be accessible

Inside the Wheel Pad showing the bedroom with a colourful quilt on the bedInhabitat website has a feature about the Wheel Pad. The 200 sq ft (18.5 sqm) residence is designed to be an add-on to an existing home. It comes on a trailer and stays on the wheels. This means it can be taken away again if the “house” isn’t needed any more. The original idea arose out of a need to incorporate someone after an accident and needed a wheelchair for getting around.

The explanatory  video on this website is almost ten minutes long, but well worth the watch. It covers the design process, the features, and finally two wheelchair users who visit and give their feedback about the design. This idea could be adapted in Australia as long as the existing home has a yard big enough to take it. They claim it can be built in a day. A must see for anyone involved in providing home modifications. Also suited to bringing a parent close to home.

Editor’s note: I found the trial by the two wheelchair users at the end very informative. The ramp was a bit steep and long so they used the wooden rails to pull themselves up (splinters were mentioned). One had difficulty coming over the threshold. They discussed what worked and what might not and how things could be changed to suit.

Livable Housing Design Guidelines v4

Front cover of Livable Housing Design Guidelines v4Livable Housing Australia has redesigned their website information related to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines v4. Gone from the front page is the pdf book style of their fourth version. Replacing it is a stripped-down online version focusing on the three levels in the original guide. There is more emphasis on the expanding Supported Disability Accommodation (SDA) housing market and recruiting housing assessors. The Downloads section of the Livable Housing Australia website has the PDF of the Guidelines and the SDA standard.

The home page promotes, “safer, more comfortable and easier to access homes for everybody”. This fits with their policy of voluntary uptake of the features rather than having them included in the building code.  

For more housing design guidelines go to the Housing Design Guidelines section of this website.

2021 Update

The Silver level of the guidelines will be included in the National Construction Code in 2022. Not all states will adopt these features in their regulations. Victoria, Queensland, ACT, Tasmania and NT can expect to see new builds with these features in the future. The section of this website on housing design policy has more background. 

Some History: 

The original idea was to have the Guidelines applied to all new housing by 2020. However, it is difficult to apply voluntary guidelines in an industry governed by mandatory building codes and standards. These Guidelines were endorsed by COAG and are cited in government policy documents. Note the spelling of Livable is particular to these guidelines as a brand name by Livable Housing Australia.

The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are a great resource for individuals, builders and building design professionals. It advises what to consider in home design to make it more comfortable, easy to use regardless of age or level of ability. Not all homes will be able to apply all the good ideas. However, doing what you can is a good start for both occupants and visitors alike.

The House that Chris Built – his story

Chris Nicholls house Chris Nicholls discusses the design and construction of his family home from the perspective of a wheelchair user.  He explains why some design features, which are often referred to as disability features, are not necessarily needed by every wheelchair user or person with disability. He also explains which features were important and why. His story shows why we need to mandate basic access features so that people like Chris don’t have to fight the builder all the way. Too many times the builder thought “near enough was good enough”.

The slideshow presentation has many instructive photographs.  You can also download the transcript of his presentation: 

Chris Nicholls Transcript Word    Chris Nicholls Transcript PDF  

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