PROPERTY & INSURANCE The great re-imagining

How can dementia-friendly design support wellbeing and quality of life in care homes, asks James Botterill, Director, RIBA Chartered HSSP Architects.

It is estimated that 70% of care home residents now have dementia or similar challenges and yet the ‘standard’ building design has evolved little. Care homes with long corridors, open communal living and busy internal and

external spaces are ill-equipped to support their physical, cognitive and

sensory needs. We need to address the hangover of ‘hospital

like’ design and to take a fresh look at the concept and purpose of the whole living environment. The design of the building and how it is equipped is critical to supporting people with dementia by reducing symptoms of confusion, isolation and anxiety.


ENORMOUS DIFFERENCE Best practice design, in line with the 12 principles set out by the Department of Health, highlights the need to avoid busy and crowded areas, unidentifiable spaces, noise and clutter that add to feelings of confusion and anxiety. The days of social and dining areas shared by every resident is yesterday’s thinking. There is now an emphasis on easing the transition through ‘comfort design’ and a ‘home from home’ feel.

“The design of the building and how it is equipped is critical to

supporting people with dementia by reducing symptoms of

confusion, isolation and anxiety.”

An example is in a new care home near Kirby Muxloe where we deconstructed the traditional institution into a cluster of six pods that form small self-contained communities within the care facility.


WITH NATURE Traditional care home design only gives residents on the ground floor free flow access, but having access to the outdoors is an important aspect of caring for people with dementia. Using Biophilic design - based on increasing the connection with nature - is now one of the most important design approaches to support the cognitive function, physical health, and psychological wellbeing of care home residents.

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At our newest project, a care home in Melton Mowbray, we designed the building to give residents the ability to have safe, free flow access to the outside. There is a series of south- facing terraces, each connected to the open-plan living area of each ‘family unit’ made up of between 10 and 12 residents.

Orientation and feelings of wellness can also be aided by a view of a building, landscape or garden. Residents at the Alysia Care Home in Rutland, which we designed, enjoy grand views of the Elizabethan manor, Burghley House, through large windows in the central communal building. Additionally, the use of natural materials, textures and colours promise to be immensely therapeutic.


ALL RESIDENTS Patterned walls and flooring, lighting contrasts or chaotic décor can confuse people experiencing sight loss and dementia. So we work on carefully balancing light and colours throughout, using soothing artwork, block colours and incorporating carefully chosen visual cues as to the purpose of each room to aid recognition and comprehension. Spaces that are light and airy are also important. At the Alysia Care Home in Rutland we focused on bringing year-round natural light into internal residential spaces, from bedrooms to corridors.

RECREATING CHILDHOOD MEMORIES For dementia suffers struggling with short-term memory loss, memories of childhood tend to be happy ones and are more easily recalled. Our design of a garden space in a care home in Leicester echoes an old-fashioned seaside resort with multi- coloured beach huts serving as a device to help residents remember care-free times and make them comfortable with their surroundings.

From builds like this to the latest ‘apartment style’ in Melton Mowbray which supports independent living, design is critical to helping people with dementia to live comfortable, supported and happy lives.

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