Designing for a meaningful life for people living with dementia by Kerry Southern-Reason, Managing Director at Care Home Interiors Co.  

“To make a real difference and give people the respect and space they deserve as adults who have lived a lot of life.” A motto the design team at Care Home Interiors Co. live and work to as they extol the virtues of their tried and tested ‘practical-based’ designed interiors for people living with dementia.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything it’s that dementia residents need a purpose and a reason to get up in the morning with meaningful tasks to engage with in their living environment.

As designers we need to make the space interactive like a normal home, a place to do tasks in a safe secure way. Why should a dementia resident’s home be any less outstanding than a well thought out and designed care home? Here are five tips on how you can design for a meaningful life amongst those living with cognitive impairments.

Normal is Best: People with dementia crave familiarity. Therefore, designing a space that resembles their previous domestic environment as closely as possible is crucial. This includes avoiding a clinical or institutional aesthetic and instead focusing on creating a homely and welcoming atmosphere. The space should serve as a reminder of their life, maintaining their dignity and respect.

Distinguish a Room’s Purpose: Practical design plays a key role in reducing confusion and promoting a sense of purpose. Each room should clearly communicate its function. For example, including a fireplace in the living room, dining tables, cutlery, and crockery in the dining room helps define the space and its use. These visual cues can help alleviate frustration and fear for dementia residents by clearly identifying each area’s purpose.

Keep it Real: Interactivity is important in dementia care. Instead of using fake or simulated items, use real objects that residents can engage with. Collections of hats, costume jewellery, books, or playing cards can evoke memories and foster meaningful interactions. This approach reduces confusion and creates a genuine environment that supports residents’ cognitive abilities.

Make No Assumptions: When designing for people living with dementia, it’s important to avoid over-relying on clinical solutions. The focus should be on creating a comfortable, homely environment through purpose-driven design that meets the unique needs of the residents and their care givers. By prioritising their comfort, safety, and personal preferences, we can create spaces that truly feel like home.

Would You Live There? The ultimate litmus test when designing a care home should be whether you would be comfortable living there. Consider factors like aesthetic appeal and day-to-day living conditions. For instance, a bright, elaborate pattern on the wall might seem like a fun idea initially but think about whether it would still be enjoyable after seeing it every day.

By adhering to these five principles, we can ensure that dementia design strategies promote meaningful activities and enhance the quality of life for those living with dementia.