Feb 21, 2019

Designing Your Home To Support Dementia

The word ‘home’ often conjures images of a house filled with loved ones, but in reality, home is actually a feeling that comes with being in a place where you are truly comfortable and able to be yourself.

Sometimes though, finding comfort can be difficult.

As a person ages, their overall health and quality of life hinge on a variety of different factors, but being able to remain living at home as opposed to an aged care facility has proven to be extremely beneficial to an elderly persons wellbeing and lifespan.

People living with dementia can experience a variety of symptoms, including short-term memory loss and disorientation, and placing people who are dealing with these issues in new and unfamiliar environments can be detrimental to their ability to function.

And while the home environment is almost always the most preferred setting for someone living with dementia, unfortunately, cognitive impairment and confusion can still be prevalent, even in the most familiar of surroundings.

And this is what makes the design of an environment so important to those living with dementia, and those that care for them.

Thankfully in 2019, there is an increasing number of products and services dedicated to improving the quality of life for people living with dementia and the elderly who want to remain in their own home.

And one such product is a new and free downloadable mobile app that can be used as a tool to assess just how dementia friendly the design of an environment is for someone living with dementia.

And the name of this app is Iridis.

Home Is Where The Heart Is

The story of the Iridis homeowner app begins in the U.K, at Scotland’s Stirling University.

Stirling’s world-renowned  Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) has been an international centre of dementia knowledge and expertise for a number of years.

And one area of importance that continues to garner interest is the study of environmental design and the effects that the layout of an area can have on the quality of life of someone living with dementia.

Lesley Palmer, chief architect at the DSDC has spent a lifetime developing a wealth of architectural knowledge and experience, and it is this background coupled with her dedication to bettering the lives of people living with dementia, that has made her one of the world’s most respected authorities on dementia design.

“During my time in architectural practice, I frequently worked on projects which involved designing for the 65+ population. By proxy I gained experience of ‘what not to do’ – learning from the challenges posed by our existing housing stock on an ageing population,” said Lesley.

“In my role as Chief Architect (DSCD), I work internationally, applying the research evidence of dementia design to live projects. This affords me the opportunity to meet people of all ages and persuasions, each with personal experience of living with dementia or supporting someone who lives with dementia.”

“The opportunity to be immersed in one field, to work closely with people with dementia and their families, and to witness first-hand the impact design can have on the individual and the disease process compels me to do more; it is both humbling and inspiring.”

The Iridis homeowner app was born from a collaboration between The University of Stirling and a UK based construction/technology outfit known as Space Group.

Iridis is used predominantly by family members of persons living with dementia to assess the suitability of their living environment for someone living with dementia at home.

The app presents users with a series of Yes/No questions about their living environment accompanied by pictures and prompts.

These pictures provide a visual representation of what an area of the home should look like, in order to be more dementia friendly, and informs users on what they can do to make that area of the home better suited for a person living with dementia.

These pictures are then followed by questions that ask the user if an area of their living environment meets the dementia design standard, and the answers to these questions are then tallied at the end of usage to give an indication of the overall suitability of the environment for someone living with dementia.

The app also allows users to upload images of their living environment and send them away for review, these pictures are then assessed, and advice and recommendations are given on how to improve the environments in the images and make them more dementia friendly.


What Does Dementia Friendly Design Look Like?

The basic fundamentals of dementia friendly design aim to reduce unhelpful or confusing stimulation and increase and optimise helpful stimulation using prompts.

People living with dementia can experience confusion and disorientation in the most familiar of environments, so having their home or living area set-up with potential cognitive impairments in mind, can increase the likelihood of safe and independent movement.

Colour can play a big part in the environment of someone living with dementia and experiencing confusion and disorientation.

A reduction in the ability to perceive contrast can make it difficult to safely navigate environments, and this can make it hard for some people to notice subtle changes in environments like steps, carpets, table, and chairs.

But having bright, vibrant coloured objects that stand out from the rest of the background can add clarity to an environment for someone living with dementia.

Handrails, toilet seats, cutlery, and other essential day-to-day use items are all far more accessible and easy to use when they are brightly coloured and differentiate from their backdrop.

Bright contrasting colours can also be used on walls in areas of importance in order to improve the person’s ability to understand the layout of their area and understand where they are, and the direction that they would like to go.

And the choice of colour can really help to compliment the mood of an area.

Blue colours can have a calming effect, so these colours are recommended for rest areas and bedrooms, while red is known to stimulate brain activity and is best used in communal areas and places of stimulating interaction.

Unobstructed lines of sight can also make the requirements of day to day living much easier for those living with dementia. Such as ensuring that a person’s bed has a direct path of vision to the toilet.

The use of handrails and non-slip floor surfaces decrease the risk of falls, and ensuring that doors are unlockable from the outside are a great safety measure just incase a fall does take place and the person is unable to unlock the door themselves.

Sharing The Knowledge

Dementia design expert Lesley Palmer will be one of many dementia experts from around the globe that will be looking to share their ideas at this year’s Red Conference (Regional Experiences in Practical Dementia Care) being held in Port Macquarie.

Omnicare Alliance will host the two-day event, which will run on March 28 and 29th, and incorporate a series of presentations and workshops to give participants further insight and understanding of dementia.

The RED Conference demonstrates Omnicare Alliance’s commitment to supporting a better quality of life for people living with dementia, those involved with their care, and the wider community.

“I consider it a great honour to be able to work in the field of dementia & specifically dementia design,” said Lesley.

“I have found the aged care sector to be very susceptive to new technology and in many cases, demanding new advancements which support the individual and the carer.”

“And the ‘practical’ and hands-on’ approach which the RED conference facilitates is a great way to support people with dementia and their families.”

Register for the RED Conference HERE.

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