Back to school for dementia design

Dementia design school starts in Sydney next week, teaching the well-established principles for designing better buildings and enabling environments for people with dementia.

Above: Meredith Gresham (centre) in an Australian Dementia Design School session last year.

Well known ways of designing living spaces for people with dementia are still overlooked in the construction of many aged care facilities, despite over 20 years’ research.

But HammondCare’s Dementia Centre aims to empower architects, interior designers and project managers with the knowledge to change that situation at next week’s Australian Dementia Design School in Hammondville, Sydney.

The three-day dementia design seminar is held twice a year and aims to give participants access to evidence-based principles for building and maintaining living environments that allow people with dementia to maximise their independence and wellbeing.

Speakers will include senior staff from the Dementia Centre including its director, Colm Cunningham as well as senior design and research consultant, Meredith Gresham.

“Organisations continue to build beautiful hotel-style facilities with leisure in mind, whereas people with dementia need an environment where they can engage in familiar, productive activities,” Ms Gresham said in a statement.

“They need the opportunity to participate in ‘overlearned’ activities – those that are so familiar we don’t have to think about them – to give a sense of usefulness and accomplishment. Cooking, cleaning, gardening are just some examples.

“Yet these beautiful, gracious facilities promote a sense of endless leisure, like being on holidays all the time. This is guaranteed to rapidly de-skill residents and increase the impact of dementia.”

And even though many clear principles had been established by research, in some cases 20 years ago, the “sad fact” was that they had still not been widely implemented, Ms Gresham said.

“For example, we have known from research two decades ago that the ability to see the toilet from bed reduces incontinence by 70 per cent and yet this design principle is often not implemented,” she said. 

“Another example is the mistaken view that ‘dim lighting is restful for residents’ despite readily-available research that tells us that increased lighting reduces confusion and anxiety and elevates mood for older people and those with dementia.”

The Dementia Design School starts next Wednesday in Hammondville, Sydney, and runs from 15-17 February. Other speakers will include David McNair, Director of Lighting at the UK Dementia Services Development Centre, and HammondCare’s chief executive, Dr Stephen Judd. 

On the research front, the West Australian branch of Alzheimer’s Australia and the NSW/ACT Dementia Training Study Centre (DTSC) at the University of Wollongong are collaborating on a national project that will approach the same topic from an academic angle.

The Dementia Enabling Environments Project (DEEP) brings researchers from around the country together with dementia specialist architects, landscape specialists and carers, aiming to improve built environments for people with dementia.

Professor Richard Fleming, director of the DTSC, described the project as a bold initiative that will make it much easier for managers of health and aged care services to access the information they need to guide the development of built environments that help people with dementia lead full lives.

“There are key environmental design principles that are well supported by research,” Professor Fleming said. 

“When managers and architects are aware of them they make much better decisions about design. This project will put them into their hands and provide practical examples of their successful application.”

A range of initiatives will be developed as part of the project, according to a statement from Alzheimer’s Australia WA. These include environmental audit tools for care settings, course materials for university architectural students, workshops for professionals and families, a national library lending resource and a virtual web based centre of information and advice.

For more information and to register interest in next week’s Dementia Design School at Hammondville, Sydney, visit, email or call +61 2 87883081.

Tags: alzheimers-australia-wa, building, built-environment, conference, dementia, event, research, seminar,

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