Dementia Friendly Outdoors

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.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. So the images show what NOT to do.

hallway with lighting across the floor making it look like stepsThe article, Age and Dementia Friendly Outdoor Spaces is informative introduction to the topic. 


Dementia Friendly Kiama

Three people sit around a table in a cafe with the waitperson ready to take an order.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.

Design tool for dementia-friendly public buildings

A basic floor plan showing a meeting room, toilets, reception and lobby area. An interactive tool for dementia friendly public buildings.The online tool for Dementia Enabling Environments has a section on dementia friendly public buildings. It’s an interactive design tool. So clicking on a room in the floor plan brings up a 3D view of the room. Hovering the mouse over question 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.

Cognition and inclusive design

Practitioners and researchers are seeking more solutions for people with sensory and cognitive impairments, particularly dementia. But our building standards are silent on this growing issue. Time to think about cognition from an inclusive design perspective.

The value of designing an age-friendly environment is discussed in an article by Hadjri, Afacan, and Gadakari. As with all universal design features, the authors argue inclusion needs to be embedded in the early stages of design. See the abstract below for more on the content.

Front cover of the bookIt is good to see the topic nestling between chapters on passive design and energy efficiency. The chapter “Inclusive Design” unexpectedly appears in ZEMCH: Toward the Delivery of Zero Energy Mass Custom Homes, and is available from SpringerLink and ResearchGate.

You will need institutional access for a free read, otherwise purchase the chapter. You can also try ResearchGate to ask for a free read. 

From the abstract

This chapter will explain and discuss the principles, role and importance of Inclusive Design particularly in the context of an ageing society. It will review the changing and complex user needs and requirements through case studies and current work of leading organizations.

Current standards do not take account of cognitive needs and more needs to be done by policy makers. Findings of recent research on users’ needs and requirements will be reviewed and Inclusive Design will be examined to assess the use of technology in embedding accessibility during the design stage.