The Design Council’s drive to address dementia is a good start, let’s follow suit

Lyndda

St Matthew said the poor are always with us, but had he been around today he might have added the elderly to his tally. The results of last month’s Government census will put exact figures on this group in the UK, but it will certainly represent a huge market for design.

Marketers and house-builders have long targeted the over-50s – the ’silver surfers’ and ’empty nesters’. Indeed, the swelling of their ranks prompted Roger Coleman to set up the Royal College of Art’s Design Age research unit in 1991 to consider services such as transport for an ageing population. This fuelled the broader inclusive design repertoire of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, set up by Coleman with Jeremy Myerson in 1999.

It’s not just about installing grabrails or a pleasing decor. It can be the design of services and networks

With more people living into their 80s and 90s, the elderly are a disparate bunch, but they account for most of the 750 000 people said by the Government to be suffering from dementia. A Department of Health report, Living Well with Dementia, put the cost of dementia to the NHS and social care at some £8.2bn in 2009, with estimates that the number of sufferers will double by 2040.

What’s this got to do with design? An awful lot. The longer people retain their independence – with appropriate support – the better the quality of their lives, while those in residential care deserve ’human’ rather than institutional treatment, and design can help on both counts.

But it’s not just about installing grab-rails or a pleasing decor. It can be the design of services and support networks. One of the Dott 07 projects piloted in the North East created wayfinding for Alzheimer’s sufferers and Kingston University has done great work on care homes. Now the Design Council is launching an open-innovation initiative to address dementia, reducing costs, but also engaging communities in helping sufferers.

Ageing and dementia are massive issues, presenting a big challenge for design. We’d welcome your ideas on how best to meet it.

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