Access to nature among top considerations when designing dementia care buildings

Birmingham City University report reveals top priorities for design of dementia care facilities - including wayfinding, access to nature, and safety

Dementia environments should be carefully designed to improve the quality of life of residents

Buildings for people living with dementia must prioritise unrestricted access to nature, support for wayfinding and navigation, and the safety of the environment, new research has found.

Academics at Birmingham City University have carried out the study examining how homes and houses should be designed in order to provide the best support and living environment for the increasing number of people with dementia.

The research was carried out with residents and staff at a UK care home, with the results revealing that nearly 60% of respondents were disappointed with a lack of access to the outdoors, believing it created an institutionalised environment.

The research also showed that a third of people believed it was important for buildings to include visual orientation clues such as colour, memorabilia, objects or murals to help residents find their way more easily.

The study’s findings have highlighted noteworthy design considerations for both facilities managers and designers to improve upon care home facilities and provide a less-institutionalised, yet still safe and functional, environment

More than 850,000 people in the UK were living with dementia in 2014, with that number predicted to rise to more than two million by 2050.

The study’s responses enabled researchers Lee Fisher and Erika Pärn to identify the three major issues for consideration when building homes for people with dementia; safety, wayfinding and access to nature and the outdoors.

Fisher, a recently-graduated construction management student from Birmingham City University, who now works for The Orders of St John Care Trust, said: “This research has highlighted the value of engaging with both residents living with dementia and the operational staff responsible for their care to understand what effects their quality of life.

“I hope the publication of this work will serve as a springboard and inspiration for further research on new digital technologies in an unobtrusive manner to enhance the everyday life for residents living with dementia.”

The research findings have now been published in a peer-reviewed scientific research paper entitled Building Design for People with Dementia: A Case Study of a UK Care Home, which is published in the Emerald journal, Facilities.

Pärn, a lecturer in architectural technology, said: “The study’s findings have highlighted noteworthy design considerations for both facilities managers and designers to improve upon care home facilities and provide a less-institutionalised, yet still safe and functional, environment.

I hope the publication of this work will serve as a springboard and inspiration for further research on new digital technologies in an unobtrusive manner to enhance the everyday life for residents living with dementia

“As well as providing pragmatic design guidance, the work has also sought to stimulate wider academic and practitioner debate and other urgently-needed research work.

“Such future work will seek to combine new digital technologies in an unobtrusive manner to enhance the quality of life for residents living with dementia.”

The research categorised the questions based on physical, sensory and cognitive triggers in a bid to assess measures that could help improve patient quality of life.

But the researchers warn against adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, with environments instead tailored to the needs of residents.

Among the other key topics identified for consideration were:

  • Optimising levels of stimulation
  • Providing optimum lighting
  • Considering colour contrast
  • Ensuring thermal comfort
  • Providing a non-institutional scale and environment
  • Promoting engagement with friends, relatives and staff
  • Promoting privacy dignity and independence