Designing for dementia care: what you need to know

Nobody likes to spend additional dollars after a building project has been completed.

Changing the design because it doesn’t work is not only often impossible but also costly, inconvenient and frustrating when the design should be right in the first place.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say to me, “Why do we need to consider dementia design throughout a facility when we have a secure dementia area?”

People living with dementia live in the community, within retirement villages and certainly a lot of my clients tell me that over 90% of their residents in aged care have some form of cognitive impairment.

Good design should encompass dementia design and should not be restricted to only the secure area. Enabling environment principles apply to all that reside in an aged care facility. Ageing eyesight challenges, Parkinson’s, mobility issues and hearing problems – the list goes on.

Getting the design right in the early planning stages saves the client and architects a lot of time and money.

Asking an architect to change things at the eleventh hour is taking your life in your own hands! I totally understand why. The good news is this can be prevented.

There are many things that should be considered. For example, we know that the scale of a building will have an effect on the behaviour and feelings of a person with dementia.

Designing facilities with long corridors and no distinguishing features can be confusing to a resident and the sheer scale overwhelming.

We know bedroom doors opposite each other is a source of frustration for both residents and staff with residents often going straight from their bedroom across to an open door.

You may say, “Surely that doesn’t happen anymore”, but I’m afraid it still does. These things are impossible to fix and therefore a nightmare to manage for the aged care provider.

Even interior design aspects should be considered early in the process. Preventing costly design errors that will spoil the overall finished look is easily achieved.

A typical example is recessed pelmets for window treatments. You discover that the plans show a pelmet depth of 180 and the depth required for double tracks is 300.

Too late to change, too costly to change so you spoil the look and have to face fix. Such an easy thing to rectify if addressed early.

So before pen is put to paper there are a number of things to consider when starting the design process:

  1. Choose your team wisely and make sure all the relevant parties (including external consultants) are at the table in the very early planning stage.
  2. Every team member should have an area of expertise they can bring to the table to ensure a successful project.
  3. Your team should include expert external professionals such as dementia design consultants to review the work ongoing prior to working drawings being completed.
  4. The client brief should be interpreted by all the team and then given back to the client, including everyone’s expert knowledge, as a reverse brief. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands clearly the desired outcome.
  5. The overall design should be based around a good set of dementia design principles.

There are a number of resources available such as “The 10 Dementia Enabling Environment Principles” developed by Professor Richard Fleming and Kirsty Bennett at the University of Wollongong. This set of principles can form the platform from which to measure outcomes.

All too often I am asked to review architectural plans when the build has already started. This is too late. Your building will be around for 40 years so don’t make it a costly mistake.

Debbie De Fiddes is the Founder and CEO of deFiddesign


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