Tuesday, 3 October 2017

5 Dementia-Friendly Design Principles

David Phillips’ resident expert in inclusive design, Victoria Bellerby, shares some of her guiding principles on creating dementia-friendly spaces…

Following the ‘Doing Dementia Design 2017’ conference in Liverpool, it seems like the perfect time for me to share some guiding principles on how to design for people living with dementia. Research into best practice in designing for independent living is a trending issue and the ‘Doing Dementia’ conference focused heavily on encouraging inclusive design in all elements of life.

The department of health estimated in 2016 that there were approximately 800,000 people in the UK with dementia, and this number is expected to double within the next 20 years. The conference reiterated our stance that there is a need for society to do more to understand the role of design in helping people with dementia to lead independent lives. Dementia is a hidden disability and people who experience the everyday challenges of living with the disease can often feel isolated and confused.

As a sector specialist, part of our dedicated furnishing offering at David Phillips is to provide design services focussed on dementia, social housing, retirement living and student accommodation providers. We’ve been working in the sector since 1967, and over the last five years have responded to increased market demand for well designed, inclusive living schemes. We have worked with many organisations who house residents with varying degrees of dementia, to design living spaces that support independent living.

The design principles

Early onset dementia symptoms can be untroubling at first, but can have significant repercussions on day-to-day physical and mental health, and wellbeing. There are, however, things that can be kept in mind when designing spaces that can help make everyday life a little more manageable.

  1.  Be spatially aware: The first step should be to define the space and its purpose. It is important to consider the flexibility and adaptability of the area, and to create a space that will encourage activities.
  2. Declutter (and, specifically, don’t add clutter): Remove unnecessary books, ornaments and furniture. Often these things can be confusing and distressful for a person living with dementia. By removing these objects and replacing them with useful tools, we declutter the space and help improve mental wellbeing.
  3. Keep it light: There has long been scientifically proven value in natural light (check out some stats here) and this is especially important when considering lighting for people living with dementia. Maximising natural light in the home and communal areas will encourage activity and confidence.
  4. Wayfinding and signs: Make everyday objects noticeable and easy to access. For example, swapping wooden cupboard doors for transparent panels reduces confusion by making cupboard contents visible. Effectively positioned signs can also be helpful reminders of an objects purpose, along with being a directional aide.
  5. The great outdoors: Encourage access to outdoor spaces with lots of plants, trees and exposure to the natural environment. However, it is important to keep transitions in flooring streamlined and to avoid trip hazards. It also important to limit changes in surface heights and distinct colour contrast as this may inhibit movement due to fear of falling or perception difficulties.
So, the key takeaways when planning your dementia-friendly areas are to remember to design the space well to encourage activity, keep the rooms clutter free and flood those spaces with natural light. Make sure that both everyday objects and spaces are easy to find using transparent panels and clear signage, and finally, create those wonderful, inclusive outdoor spaces. 

Concerned that your scheme isn’t meeting its potential? Speak to one of our specialists today and we can help you to identify areas for design improvement: