Dementia friendly outdoors

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, not just at home. That means we need a dementia-friendly outdoors.

Ash Osborne writes in the Access Insight magazine about dementia and outdoor environments. 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. 

A black and white paved area. The black pavers are laid in an "S" shape and look like a long black snake against the white pavers. Not very dementia friendly outoors.

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.

Sun cast shadows through a pergola with large beams create shadows on the footpath that look like steps.

Wiggly lines in paving and sun-cast shadows from a pergola are similar situations. A black mat at a doorway looks like a hole in the ground and pooled lighting can be confusing. So the images show what NOT to do.

Distortions of perception are not just experienced by some people with dementia. So, once again, think universal design.

hallway with lighting across the floor making it look like steps.

Osborne’s article, Age and Dementia Friendly Outdoor Spaces is an informative introduction to the topic. 

Dementia and urban design

In Improving the lives of people with dementia through urban design, Barbara Pani presents four brief case studies: a gated community, a dementia-friendly city, intergenerational housing, and health services at a neighbourhood level in a social housing estate.

The article provides technical information and in the conclusion raises several points. Retrofitting existing buildings could be better than a massive redevelopment.

Consideration of people with dementia could also be good for the wellbeing of people with mental health issues, and the importance of developing social spaces at the neighbourhood level. 

Many people with dementia are able to live independently for several years before they need constant care and support. Studies are showing that the design of the built environment is influential in supporting people with dementia to maintain their sense of well-being and independence.

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