2022 Future of Ageing Awards: Promoting independence and engagement in dementia care

Outside Mural

In this story, we profile Southern Cross Care NSW & ACT’s Engagement in Dementia Care through Physical Environment Design project – awarded highly commended in the dementia care category. This is part of our program to share the best award entries and the outcomes that are improving the lives of ageing Australians.

In mid-2021, the dementia wing of the John Woodward Residential Care Home in Merrylands was chosen as the location for a pilot project to re-design the physical environment to promote independence and engagement with those living with dementia. The Dementia wing (Diamond Unit) was chosen because it has a large communal area and the décor and furniture were outdated, having been designed along principles of dementia care that are no longer contemporary.

Design Process

The project team referred to Dementia Training Australia’s Built Environment Assessment Tool – Dementia (BEAT-D) and the ‘Key Design Principles in Environments for People with Dementia’ by Fleming & Bennett (2017) to suggest key improvement recommendations and design principles. The team also used the BEAT-D app, which allows users to upload photos in response to questions to better assess improvement recommendations.

The project team engaged residents, their families, and staff through focus groups and a series of collaborative meetings to explore recommendations and develop a final design. Visual design presentation boards were used to display colour and fabric options and the key design features, and participants were able to provide valuable feedback throughout the process. All residents were invited to participate in selecting new artwork, chairs and the door colour for their rooms, helping to create their own space. Residents also collaborated with an artist to design a new mural featuring a variety of plants and animals.

One of the murals produced in the design


The large open space was redesigned to create a series of activity-related ‘zones’ including a Main Area for watching TV and movies, an Exchange Area for group discussions and reminiscing therapy activities, a Creative Area for crafts and cooking activities, a Quiet Area for spirituality activities, and a Sensory Room. The communal areas were painted using neutral, calming colours with new furniture and artwork.

A series of murals were added to create a sensory space to support a calm and relaxing environment. The final stage of the project will include the creation of an interactive outdoor space.

An excellent example of the benefits of taking an eco/psycho/social view of care and utilising existing resources and knowledge

2022 Future of Ageing Awards judge

A Dementia and Engagement Advisor provided oversight of the project’s implementation and provided support to residents with purposeful and engaging activities that met their needs, goals, and aspirations. This included one-to-one programs targeting those with complex health needs or who are at risk of social isolation and depression, special interest groups, and supporting self-initiated and independent activities and links with the wider community. An example of this is the home’s ‘Engagement and Leisure program’, developed using a comprehensive assessment of each resident and applying the Progressively Lowered Stress Threshold model (PLST).

The program includes a daily schedule of activities such as active and physically stimulating activities in the morning, calming activities and music before lunch, sensory stimulating activities and creative activities in the afternoon, and personalised engagement and activity boxes for each resident and a personal photo book based on their particular interests, which have been great conversation starters for residents with their families and staff. The home also introduced the Tovertafel interactive table which includes a range of interactive games and experiences for residents, which is being used as part of the daily engagement strategies with specific residents and is supporting resident engagement.

Specifically in the Diamond Unit of the John Woodward Residential Care Home, since the
changes have been implemented, there has been an increase of over 300% in resident
activity participation:

Feb 2022 – 570 activities engaged in by residents.
June 2022 – 2326 activities engaged in by residents.

The pilot project at the John Woodward Residential Care Home in Merrylands demonstrated the benefits of taking an eco/psycho/social view of care and utilising existing resources and knowledge to improve the physical environment for dementia care.

Entries for the 2023 Future of Ageing Awards open May 1, 2023 – For further information.

Thanks to those companies who have shown their support for the awards through a partnership.  They are listed below:


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