The physical environment can work well – or make some big problems – for people living with dementia, whether it’s in a person’s own home or a care home. Assistive technology, developing dementia-friendly communities, understanding risk – all these issues play an important part in supporting people living with dementia.
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Kitchen and dining areas
Eating and drinking are always important, but a person with dementia may lose their appetite and their ability to care for themselves in this way. The design of a kitchen can help a person with dementia to find and use what they need. If the kitchen and dining areas are recognisable, for example, with a clear lay-out and appealing cooking smells, this stimulates the appetite and encourages people to do as much as possible for themselves.
The bedroom should be a private, cosy and safe place which promotes a good night's sleep. People with dementia may need help with finding and recognising their bedroom. Design and technology can help to improve arrangements for sleeping for people with dementia.
Toilets and bathrooms
It is important to make the toilet or bathroom a safe and easy place for a person with dementia to use. The right design can help a person with dementia to maintain their independence and dignity over personal care. Going to the toilet or having a bath or shower should be, if not enjoyable, at least stress-free.
A garden offers fresh air, exercise and exposure to sunlight which is vital for wellbeing. People with dementia generally will be less likely to become agitated and distressed if they can have regular access to fresh air and exercise and a quiet space away from others as needed. The garden can be a safe and secure environment if designed properly.
Good lighting is particularly important for people with dementia as it can help them make sense of their environment. Make the best use possible of natural daylight. Technology can help with managing variations in sunlight and artificial light.
Technology can be used in a variety of ways to help people with dementia in their daily living, and is known as 'assistive technology'. Some technology is simple to install and use, some is more involved. Finding individual solutions for each person with dementia can help them maintain their independence for as long as possible.
Creating a relaxing environment
Having dementia is very stressful and exhausting. All the problems of dementia, including agitation, sleeplessness, wandering and aggression, are made worse by stress. Stress can be reduced with environmental changes. Each person with dementia is different, so work at finding solutions that suit the individual. Remember to draw on all the senses and avoid overstimulation.
Of all the senses, hearing is the one that has the most significant impact on people with dementia in terms of quality of life. Noise that is acceptable to care staff may be distressing and disorientating for a person with dementia. We can reduce noise levels by careful design, using noise absorbing materials, and the thoughtful use of decor and furnishings. We can improve communication with people with dementia by being more attentive to the impact of noise during the day and night.
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following download you will need a free MySCIE account:
- What the research says: The environment
Useful links Open
Dementia-friendly health and social care environments
This 2015 resource from the Department of Health presents design guidance in relation to new buildings as well as the adaption or extension of existing facilities, and includes case studies drawn from projects funded by the Dementia Capital Programme.
Design Resource Centre
The University of Stirling’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) has always been a leader in the area of dementia and design. The DSDC website includes the Design Resource Centre. This section includes links to a substantial range of publications and resources in the area of dementia-friendly design including information on the importance of lighting, colour and contrast, getting outside, and orientation and signage. The site also includes the DSDC Virtual Care Home and the DSDC Virtual Hospital. Both these resources allow users to navigate around the various areas within a care home or hospital (such as bedroom, ward, ensuite, kitchens, lounges and so on), and read advice about things to consider and ways to improve the care environment for people with dementia.
Developing supportive design for people with dementia
This is the final report of The King’s Fund’s Enhancing the Healing Environment (EHE) Programme, which ran from 2009 until 2012. The well-illustrated report includes descriptions of the 26 EHE projects completed in NHS Trusts to improvement the environment of care for people with dementia, and also includes the EHE assessment tool and overarching design principles.
Home environment and dementia
This NHS Choices web page sets out good introductory information on how to improve the environment for a person living with dementia. It covers topics such as lighting, flooring, colours, noise and outside spaces.
Making your home dementia-friendly
This 2015 Alzheimer’s Society booklet is aimed at people living at home. It covers a wide range of topics such as lighting, flooring, furniture and furnishings, knowing where things are, and enjoying the outside.