Combating isolation, keeping independence

Peter Moran, Director at Todd Architects, considers how using light, colour, and scale, can promote independence and wellbeing for residents in dementia-friendly housing, in turn helping to combat isolation and minimise stress.

There has been an increase in the quality of care home bed provision for people with dementia. According to Public Health England’s dementia profile (April 2019 update), in 2018, 68.6% of residential care and nursing home beds in establishments suitable for people with dementia received a Care Quality Commission rating of ‘good’ or better than ‘good’. This is a clear increase on the previous figure of 59.7%. As healthcare architects, we welcome this improvement, as we believe well- considered, effective, and holistic design can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of residents with dementia, while also providing safety, therapy, and pleasant places in which to live.

Dementia and design For people suffering with dementia, symptoms vary from individual to individual, as does the speed of the cognitive decline. While any good design must take account of individual needs, there are certain elements that would be appropriate in any situation.

According to the Social Care Institute for Excellence, a person with dementia is much more likely to become withdrawn. However, the confusion – and related aspects such as frustration and aggression – caused by cognitive decline are easily exacerbated by stressful situations, such as too much noise or movement. With a growing body of evidence suggesting that people with dementia should be able to continue to lead as independent a lifestyle as possible, and engage in the wider social and economic life of a community, designs should aim to balance the undoubted benefits of minimising the feelings of isolation, particularly in the early stages of dementia, while providing safe, calm, and understandable homes where residents can remain, even as their symptoms progress.

Creating a community

As healthcare architects, we firmly believe it is our duty to create dementia-friendly housing which is fully integrated into a neighbourhood, and to use design as an enabler for people with care needs to continue to live as independently as possible.


Todd Architects describes the architecture at The Croft as ‘modern, while purposefully domestic and familiar in scale, and widely accessible’.

By way of example, we have recently applied some of these principles to The Croft in Newtownabbey in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim. This state-of-the- art supported living development is specifically designed for people living with early stage dementia. The Croft’s residential arrangement is intended to function as a village community, containing a central social hub where communal facilities are located. The hub is linked via four internal streets, branching out to clusters of six apartments or ‘communities’, each with its own shared social spaces, and benefiting from shared private road access.

The architecture is modern, while purposefully domestic and familiar in scale, and widely accessible. Keeping the scale

While any good design must take account of individual needs, there are certain elements that would be appropriate in any situation

domestic, effective use of light, and the inventive use of colour, are three key design elements that we have used to create an environment that not only limits the anxiety and stress commonly associated with dementia, but also allows residents to lead a more independent and socially active lifestyle.

Activity and engagement versus quiet and calm

A study conducted for the US National Institute on Ageing revealed that people with dementia with a strong social network experience delayed cognitive impairment, and that larger social circles have a protective influence on the comprehension and reasoning ability for people with dementia. Researchers from the University of Manchester showed that social activities and maintaining an active social life with friends and family can improve the wellbeing of such individuals. However, for a person living with dementia, being forced to choose between a big communal area and their own room is rather limiting. At The Croft, we took every opportunity to create spaces where


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