How to design a dementia-friendly space

The number of people who develop dementia is increasing. As such, design teams and architects are given the difficult job of ensuring health facilities, clinics, and care homes are friendly for those with the disease. 

What makes the task even more difficult is that most people suffering from dementia will have other medical conditions or disabilities. This means designers and facility managers need to think carefully and work with end-users to create a space that properly accommodates patients with multiple needs. 

To get you started, here are three tips to consider. 

Understanding dementia

A car is built so that it’s easy to drive. A school is built with children in mind. In a similar fashion, you cannot successfully design a space for someone with dementia without understanding the condition yourself. 

It’s vitally important for designers and architects to consider how end users will interact with the building, what conditions they’re living in, and what their state of mind might be. 

As dementia affects cognitive function and memory, those with the disease can become easily confused or misinterpret situations that were once familiar. It may mean that a change in color on the floor could be misinterpreted as a step – increasing the risk of trips and falls. 

Confusions within a familiar setting are what make patients and residents of dementia facilities scared and disorientated. As such, it’s integral that wall and floor colors are carefully considered to accommodate for any impairments someone may have. 

Making things stand out

Factoring in any potential impairments, designers should ensure that anything important – steps, handrails, corners, and doors – are highly visible. Color plays a key role in helping people differentiate between surfaces and levels, and you should use this to your advantage. 

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If doors are white and plush against the white wall, this may look like there isn’t a door at all – causing confusion and anxiety. This can be useful for stopping patients from accessing dangerous areas or staff-only spaces. Doors that can be used should be in contrast colors to make them completely visible. 

Similarly, handrails and corners should be equally as visible to ensure that anyone with mobility issues can navigate the space independently. Down a long corridor, non-conjoining walls in the same color can look like a single straight wall. Metal corner guards can help to show where the wall stops to make way for an adjoining corridor and where the wall begins again on the other side. 

Handrails should also be colored or in a different texture to the wall so that they are accessible for everyone. 

Reminiscence therapy

Reminiscence therapy is a great tool for helping patients and senior relatives talk to their carers and other residents. Dementia typically impacts short-term memory, meaning reminiscence therapy allows them to recall stories from their past, which can be used to individualize their care. 

A design idea that helps this therapy is using imagery on walls and doors. Woodland sceneries, sea views, and historical imagery can help encourage conversation and make the place feel more like a home than a clinic. 

While these are just three ideas to use, it is always good to speak to end-users and their families about the types of things they would need. 

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