by Lauren Bailes

The importance of good design in dementia care – a roundtable discussion

On 4th October 2016, SpaceZero hosted its first roundtable from its new office in the Zenith Building in Spring Gardens, Manchester.

Industry experts from the property and healthcare sectors joined Wayne Taylor, CEO of SpaceZero, and Philip Gardner, technical director at SpaceZero, to discuss the importance of good design in dementia care.

Attendees to the event were Frank Carroll from Compass Group, Abi Chicken from Rider Hunt, Steve Jones from AA Projects, Dr Jenny Thomas from Performance Consultancy, Damian Utton from Pozzoni, Graham Ward from Interserve and Ploy Radford, editor of Health Investor magazine, who also chaired the discussion.

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A growing issue

With an aging population and a growing number of dementia sufferers, there is no escaping the increasing need for good care homes. In the UK, there are around 850,000 people living with dementia – and this number is set to rise to over one million by 2025 and two million by 2051. In fact, nearly three-quarters of people in care homes have dementia or severe memory problems.

During the roundtable, the attendees discussed how effective design can play an integral role in helping dementia patients in care homes feel comfortable, give them a sense of familiarity, navigate the space safely and improve their overall quality of life.

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Different approaches

During the discussions, the Netherlands came up as a leading country in this field. Rather than grouping patients based on their condition, as we tend to do here in the UK, care homes in the Netherlands group people based on their backgrounds to help give them a sense of familiarity. For example, someone who grew up in a small house in a rural setting will have a different sense of ‘what is familiar’ than someone who lived in a large townhouse in a bustling urban area.

Another notable difference between countries’ approaches to dementia care is the number of patients who live together. In Sweden, for example, households for dementia patients will be for around six people, whereas in Japan this is likely to be eight. In the UK the number rises further and you can typically expect between 12 and 15 patients, as this is generally considered the most cost effective solution.

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An open solution

Caring for larger numbers of patients has a range of challenges, including monitoring and helping patients navigate their way around the space. This is where open plan can be an advantage, as it enables staff to discreetly monitor people. Open plan has additional benefits in that patients can see where they’re going and don’t feel intimidated walking into rooms full of people.

Having sensory cues in an open plan space can also be beneficial. Some patients may fail to recognise the sensation of being thirsty or hungry, for example, but if they see, hear or smell things associated with these feelings – for example, a meal being cooked or a jug of water being poured – this can act as a reminder to eat or drink.

Come in to conflict

Whether public or private, design or maintenance, staff or relatives, effective design needs to appeal to several stakeholders – all of whom have different priorities. So while open space living has its advantages, there is also a need for privacy and discretion. And although this may be key for patients, staff also need to be able to monitor and check on them.

In addition, other stakeholders might want the space to look aesthetically pleasing, while others are more interested in how functional, safe and easy to maintain it is. These are just some of the many conflicts that people in the industry find themselves facing.

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Flexible spaces

Smart design needs to be flexible – especially for dementia patients. An individual’s needs are likely to change over time as their condition progresses, and the space they live in has to be able to adapt to this. Requirements between different patients can also vary significantly, and for a design to be cost effective and stand the test of time it has to multiple purpose and cross-functional.

Power to the people

It’s important to adopt a collaborative approach and involve different stakeholders in the consultation and decision making process when it comes to designing care homes. For example, if staff are involved from an early stage then they can provide valuable insights into how to make a space functional and practical, while also buy into the new design and use it effectively to get the best results for the patients.

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Driven by technology

Technology is playing a bigger role in design and dementia care than ever before. Lighting, for example, can help guide and steer people safely around their rooms, while motion sensors can also monitor for movement or unusual behaviour without the need for invasive cameras.

As technology advances and becomes more affordable, we’ll see it become even more of integral part of care home design. But that said, we need to be careful that we don’t lose the human touch – technology should support staff and make their jobs easier, but it shouldn’t replace their roles all together. There will still be a need to find, train and retain the right quality staff.

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An inclusive society

Research will continue to reveal more about dementia and we’ll see an increase in evidence-based design in care homes and the wider healthcare sector. Our learnings of design and dementia can also feed into public spaces too. There’s no reason why public buildings – be that leisure centres, shops or libraries – can’t become more dementia friendly to help people live and socialise in their communities for as long as possible. This could be especially important as we may start to see a shift towards more people being cared for in their own homes.

Ultimately, good design doesn’t have to cost a lot. Smart design is possible within limited resources but it needs to be backed by research and insights, as well as experience, to ensure it works as well for patients today as it does tomorrow.

For more information about SpaceZero’s involvement in healthcare interior design and FFE projects, please contact the team.