Creating safe, comfortable places for people with dementia

We speak to Kate Waterston of Construction Specialties about the secret to creating truly-dementia-friendly environments

Thoughtful design is paramount to ensure environments promote wellbeing among people with dementia. Construction Specialties worked on Fortescue Ward at Northern Devon Hospital, where colour has been used to highlight or blend in various elements of interior design

People are living longer than ever before thanks to advances in medicine and the treatment of long-term illnesses, such as cancer and strokes.

Age brings its own issues, however, and Alzheimer’s Research UK Society estimates that one in three people born in the UK this year will develop dementia in their lifetime.

Research into care delivery must continue, with design teams working with clients, manufacturers and the wider supply chain to create the ideal environment for dementia sufferers of today, and the future

And this means more specialist care homes will need to be built to cater for the increasing numbers of patients suffering with the condition.

But designing interiors for people with dementia requires a thoughtful, rather than blanket, approach in order to enhance occupant health, safety and wellbeing.

Construction Specialties (CS) has collaborated with architects and health sector groups on several dementia care programmes and its UK sales manager, Kate Waterston, said there at several key elements to consider when creating successful, dementia-friendly spaces.

Empathy

“Ultimately, understanding a patient’s condition and state of mind is crucial in providing effective dementia care,” said Waterston.

“And the same patient-focused approach should be used in designing dementia care facilities, whether residential care homes or designated hospital wards, to ensure they maximise patients’ comfort, safety and encourage independence.”

Memory loss and cognitive dysfunction can be disorientating and confusing for patients and residents with dementia.

And seemingly-simple cognitive tasks, such as interpreting changes in floor colour, carry an element of risk and apprehension.

“Many elderly dementia patients will also be suffering from other age-related conditions, such as failing eyesight and physical frailty,” said Waterston.

“And all these impairments should be taken into consideration when designing their living spaces.

At Fremantle Court in Aylesbury a feature wall in a garden room has been created using CS Acrovyn by Design and helps to bring the outdoors in

Wayfinding

“To people with dementia, buildings can be as difficult to negotiate as a maze, potentially triggering a sense of loss or disorientation that is extremely upsetting,” she adds.

“A simple layout is the most-important factor for successful wayfinding, and an open-plan design is easier to navigate, providing an unobstructed view.

“Furthermore, by analysing a person’s route through a building, key points where decisions have to be made, such as doorways and corners, can be identified. They can then be linked together using a variety of stimuli such as signage, distinctive landmarks, and architectural features, to aid navigation.

“Colour can also be used on doors and ‘feature’ walls to distinguish building zones and levels.”

Warrington Hospital's Forget Me Not Ward features a bold, contrasting colour scheme within patient toilets to make them easy to find, while utility doors have been kept in the same colour as surrounding walls to make them blend in

Colour for comfort

Colour differentiation helps to highlight interior elements that need to stand out in dementia care homes, such as handrails or bathroom doors.

Handrails, in particular, should be highly-visible, as they provide physical and psychological support for dementia patients and aid navigation.

The BS 8300 code of practice and Approved Document M recommend 30 points of difference in Light Reflective Value (LRV) between the handrail and the background wall colours to make them easily distinguishable by blind and partially-sighted people.

Conversely, colour can also be used to help divert dementia patients from accessing certain areas, such as staff areas, cupboard or utility room doors. This can be easily achieved by using the same colour for doors and surrounding walls to blend them in.

With dementia care set to gain greater focus as the number of patients increases in the coming years, it is vital we attain a growing understanding of how to create homes which keep those living with the condition safe and contented

“Creating a homely appearance in dementia facilities should be balanced with the need for achieving a durable, hygienic and low-maintenance finish,” explains Waterston.

“Impact-resistant wall protection sheet and panel systems offer a simple and effective method of protecting a building’s fabric and are available in a wide selection of colours and finishes to help create a non-institutional interior environment.

“And any wall protection elements, such as corner guards, bumper rails or door protection kick plates, which are required for high-traffic areas, should be specified to blend in with the wall colour to make them more discreet.”

In the Oakwood Unit at Prospect Park Hospital CS Acrovyn by Design panels featuring photos of old Reading have been applied to corridor door faces to support reminiscence

The past revisited

Reminiscence therapy is a popular therapeutic treatment in dementia care, improving communication between patients and their carers.

“As dementia generally affects short-term memory, reminiscence therapy encourages patients to use their long-term memory and recall stories from their past,” said Waterston.

“The use of imagery on interior walls and doors is proven to reduce stress, as well as promote wellness in dementia care and mental health environments.”

The Oakwood Unit for West Berkshire NHS is an example of how supportive imagery can improve patient wellbeing.

This dementia care unit was furnished with a selection of artworks celebrating the culture and history of Reading, which have become conversation pieces that spark engagement between elderly patients, visitors and staff.

The imagery used on doors was incorporated within CS’ Acrovyn by Design Bespoke Wall Coverings for added durability and ease of maintenance.

Tranquil

“Dementia patients are easily overwhelmed and confused by noise and surroundings,” said Waterston.

“Therefore, a quiet environment, with calming surroundings, is best.

“Avoid stripes, which can be very disorientating, and large patterns.

“Dementia patients can also become confused by speckled carpet, trying to pick up the apparent pieces of fluff. This can be quite dangerous for people who are physically frail and liable to fall.”

At Cefn Coed Hospital's elderly persons’ intermediate care unit the layout includes three oval wards designed to aid dementia patients prone to ‘wandering’. And timber handrails fitted throughout circulation routes for support give the unit a more-homely look

Purposeful ‘wandering’

In recent years, dementia units have been designed to facilitate patients with a tendency to ‘wander’.

“To give patients a destination to focus on, dementia care units include communal areas, for example at the end of corridors, to provide residents with somewhere to walk to and encourage independent movement,” said Waterston.

“Colourful and interesting wall coverings used in these areas can help to draw residents’ attention.”

She concludes: “With dementia care set to gain greater focus as the number of patients increases in the coming years, it is vital we attain a growing understanding of how to create homes which keep those living with the condition safe and contented.

“It means research into care delivery must continue, with design teams working with clients, manufacturers and the wider supply chain to create the ideal environment for dementia sufferers of today, and the future.

Featured Companies

Construction Specialties UK (more information, website)