Adapting Design to Improve Wellbeing for People with Dementia

Adapting Design to Improve Wellbeing for People with Dementia

Donna Miller recently completed a master’s in architecture, and her final design project was about dementia. In time for World Alzheimer’s Day, Donna shares how different countries approach the design of dementia-friendly care homes/facilities and how we can adapt our care facilities in the UK to meet the same standards in her latest blog.  

Countries such as France and the Netherlands understand that by keeping dementia clients physically and socially active, they can promote a positive frame of mind, leading to a drop in the medication needed. A good example is reconnecting with nature, such as gardening and sensory farming.

The Hogeweyk Dementia Village in the Netherlands and Village Landais Alzheimer in France promote independence, communication, and social exchange. These villages provide facilities such as cafes, theatres, shops, hairdressers, and plenty of outside areas for gardening and socialising, all within a safe environment where the nurses and carers dress in regular clothes to remove the clinical feel typically associated with care facilities. 

Research indicates the main benefits of dementia clients reconnecting with the natural environment are:

  1. Connection to nature – can enhance verbal expressions
  2. Exercise – participants on a sensory farm experienced a variety of activities outdoors versus regular daycare facilities that involve typically spending almost all day in the same room
  3. Nutrition – dementia clients who participated in weekly sensory farm activities had a higher average intake of energy, carbohydrates, and fluid than their peers in regular daycare
  4. Wellbeing – both the buildings and outdoor areas of a sensory farm represent a recognisable and meaningful non-medical context, which can stimulate activities, memory, work, and conversations

My final design takes inspiration from these two villages and provides areas to connect with nature for gardening and farming. These areas allow residents to interact with animals such as llamas and alpacas, providing sensory stimulation, as well as small animals such as chickens offering a means to be self-sufficient with eggs for cooking and selling during the weekly market day within the dementia village.  

After reading about the benefits of reconnecting with the natural environment, I contacted our charity partner Dementia Forward to enquire about assisting with any potential day trips they had planned for their clients. 

Dementia Forward offers various services for their clients, including weekly time out together groups where their clients spend the day walking, experiencing new challenges and visiting new venues, all in a safe and social environment. These groups provide a wide range of weekly activities, from canal boat trips to days out at the football; one lady from the group said the groups were her highlight of the week.

In August this year, I was lucky enough to accompany a group of dementia clients to a local sensory farm on their weekly time out together groups. We spent our day at Beetle Bank Farm near York, feeding the large animals outside, such as ponies and pigs and then petting and holding rabbits and guinea pigs. We then visited Dementia Forward’s local community hub for a well-deserved cup of tea and a game of music bingo. 

My day with the group helped confirm the benefits of connecting with nature for their physical and social wellbeing. As a country, we must recognise these benefits and adapt how we design our care homes to provide facilities that promote mental, physical, and social activities.

For more information regarding the impact of sensory farming, please see the Let Nature Feed Your Senses report entitled “Evidence Report: The impact of sensory farm visits on older people with dementia”

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