Dementia design focus needed

Professor Richard Fleming

Dementia design lags decades behind accommodations for other physical disabilities, according to international experts, prompting a call for increased awareness and recognition for the disease.

Leading Australian expert Professor Richard Fleming co-authored the World Alzheimer’s Report 2020: Design, Dignity, Dementia: Dementia-related design and the built environment, and recommended a series of common design principles to improve the experience of people living with dementia.

“In comparison with many other fields, designing for people living with dementia does not have a large knowledge base,” he said in a presentation to launch the report.


He recommended a common set of design principles, inclusion of design in national dementia plans, working with advocacy groups to highlight guidelines, including dementia design in architecture education, encouraging study of the condition by health economists, translating knowledge and using it, and working with governments.

The report outlined the global efforts to improve design for dementia, with 84 case studies from 27 countries.

On releasing the report, however, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), called on governments to recognise the condition as a disability.

ADI chief executive Paola Barbarino said dementia design provides an opportunity to adapt built environments in the same way that physical disability design paved the way for innovation.

“If we can cater for those with visible disabilities, how can we refuse to cater for those with invisible disabilities?,” she said in a statement.

“We need to start working now, with new builds, and consider this new way of thinking at planning stage, and also look at cost effective retro-fit options for older buildings.”

She said dementia design meant being mindful of simple things, such as removing hazards, reducing stimulation, and creating clear wayfinding.

With about 152 million people forecast to be living with dementia by 2050 – the fifth-leading cause of death – the group said recognition as a disability would improve access.

Principles of dementia design as outlined in the report included unobtrusively reducing risks such as steps, maintaining a familiar scale of settings, allowing people to see and recognise their surroundings.

Reducing unhelpful stimuli while reducing helpful signs and images is important, as is supporting movement and engagement and creating familiarity.

People living with dementia should be able to be alone or with others, be able to live their lives unobstructed, and maintain links to their community.

Professor Fleming said dementia design “should never be an afterthought”.

“We need more architects and designers who are switched on to the challenges of designing for people living with dementia,” he said.

“This means that they should be introduced to them in their training when they are looking for areas that inspire them.”

Australia, England and Scotland are considered global leaders in dementia-related design.

There are 17 case studies from across Australia highlighted in the report, from the campus style living of Bethanie Gwelup in Perth to Italian Aged Care’s Casa Cabrini in Marangaroo that integrates Italian styling, and the Corumbene Care in Tasmania where residents can bring personal items.

Glengara, Retire Australia

Architects Marchese Partners’ Glengara Care on the central coast, which opened this year, was highlighted for its unobtrusive safety, good sight lines, wayfinding, familiar furnishings, spaces for residents to be alone and shared areas for the wider community.

“The design blurs the lines between the public and the domestic realms understanding how they might intertwine with each other to create opportunities for the residents to safely reach out beyond their own spaces encouraging them to move, interact and engage,” the case study said.

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