Dementia + Urban Planning

Dementia is a medical diagnosis that needs consideration beyond that of health care. Living with dementia is just that – living. Urban planning has a significant role to play in supporting people with dementia to maintain an active life in their neighbourhood. Samantha Biglieri’s magazine article on dementia and planning provides some useful advice.

Around two thirds of the population with dementia live in the community not a residential care setting. How can planners understand and meet the needs of this group?

A row of blue and white apartment units that all look the same.

Dementia is diverse

Dementia is an umbrella term to describe a set of symptoms that affect memory, visual perception, judgement and ability to sequence tasks. People who are neurodiverse or have an intellectual disability, also have similar experiences. When added together this becomes a significant portion of the population needing consideration in urban planning and design.

Designing urban settings for people with dementia provides benefits for others as well. For example, we all appreciate good wayfinding design with the use of landmarks and signage.

The importance of wayfinding

Getting lost and not knowing your way home is a common fear for people with dementia. When intersections and suburban houses look the same it becomes easier to get lost. Based on a UK study, briefly Biglieri suggests the following:

  • A short, irregular grid pattern of streets to create identifiable intersections and allow residents to visualize their travel path.
  • Streets with ample space for pedestrians with wide buffer zones between pedestrian paths, cycling paths and roads;
  • Variated architectural styles within the same development, mixed land-use, designs incorporating diverse styles of street furniture, public art, and vegetation to provide unique landmarks for improved navigation;
  • Signage that uses textual information (‘5 minute walk to the library’) and realistic photos (instead of icons, which can create confusion).
  • Development of memorable landscape features, open public squares, and community facilities.

The title of the article is, Dementia + Planning: Expanding accessibility through design and the planning process.

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