Blog: Building design must be considered to fully support those with dementia

Unconsidered design without dementia - a standard healthcare setting design from the point of view of someone without dementia. Notice the signage appears at eye level which is often difficult to see for someone who has poor neck muscles and doesn’t understand they need to look up. The bedside light is not easily recognisable as a light.Architects, contractors and building commissioners must consider the design of new buildings if Scotland is to fully support those with dementia, writes Lesley Palmer.

People living with dementia often struggle to understand and navigate their built environment due to the sensory, mobility or cognitive impairments synonymous with the condition.

Design principles to support people with dementia have existed in the UK for more than 15 years. However, it is only in the last five years that architects, contractors and building commissioners have started to apply these principles to properties outside of the conventional care environment.

Thanks to policy change and increased public awareness, we are now seeing offices, GP surgeries, supermarkets and public buildings being adapted to the needs of the older generation, and specifically for those living with dementia.

Scotland is world-renowned for both its progressive dementia policy and its innovative work around dementia design – with our international partners looking to us for guidance, leadership and support. With a multi-disciplinary approach to design and care, the University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) has become a world-leading authority on dementia design.

Scotland’s third National Dementia Strategy was recently released with an acknowledged focus – which I personally welcome – on data, information and research.

This, in my opinion, is the best approach to tackling some of the toughest challenges posed by dementia.

3. dementia-friendly design_without dementiaHousing policy is also integral to the strategy and, as Chief Architect at the DSDC, I see the impact that property design can have on the dignity and independence of our senior population. We must consider the design of our housing if we are to fully support those with dementia.

In 2001, the University published 11 research-based principles on dementia design and, by 2008, the DSDC published its first version of the Dementia Design Audit Tool. Today, we are able to see the enormous benefits of the work, ultimately enabling people with dementia to remain living in their homes for longer.

However, there is still work to be done. Since the launch of our first audit tool, there have been many developments; research design methods have progressed, our understanding of the built environment has improved, and the construction industry has evolved.

On 21 September, World Alzheimer’s Day, the University of Stirling will launch IRIDIS – a suite of mobile apps that digitises our research on dementia design principles. Simply put, the pioneering app will allow users to assess how suitable a home or workplace is for people with dementia – and then recommend improvements.

We hope to improve the world’s understanding of dementia-friendly building and enable construction professionals to eradicate the risks facing our ageing population.

  • Lesley Palmer is Chief Architect at the Dementia Services Development Centre, University of Stirling.
  • This article was provided courtesy of the University of Stirling and first appeared in The Scotsman.

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