Dementia care needs better design input

Mainstream designers are needed to create furniture, leisure activities and interiors for care homes for people with dementia, according to Kingston University’s Design Research Centre.

’There are very few people dealing with design in the dementia field, and we desperately need mainstream furniture and product designers who can create beautiful, simple furniture and assistive technology for those with dementia,’ says Hilary Dalke, Professor of Design at Kingston University.

Over the past 12 months, Dalke has led a team of designers, researchers and psychologists at Kingston’s Design Research Centre, visiting 19 care homes to assess the potential for design to improve the lives of residents with dementia.

A report, due out in May, will raise awareness of Kingston’s findings with policymakers, in an attempt to influence future care-home design and standards. ’We don’t have a budget for design at our home,’ says Sueann Balcombe, registered manager of Coombe Hill & Blenheim Lodge Nursing Home, who attended the launch of an exhibition based on Kingston’s research last Thursday at London’s Building Centre. Balcombe says, ’I went to the launch to get an idea of which design groups do what in which areas, particularly graphics and signage.’

Dalke confirms that ’care homes have no budget for design, but managers of large chains like Barchester Healthcare are very keen to upgrade their premises. However, they tend to assume that design costs more money [than it does]’.

She also identifies existing manufacturers of dementia care equipment as a barrier to better design. She says, ’They hold the market, and don’t tend to employ designers capable of bringing fresh thinking to the sector, possibly because they cannot afford to and because of the tight turnarounds needed.’

Think Public design project lead Ella Britton, who also attended last week’s event, believes that dementia care offers ’so many’ opportunities for designers – particularly codesigners. She says, ’What interests me is making care homes flexible enough to allow individual residents to feel at home there, in terms of aesthetics, which is a real challenge.’

Britton calls Kingston’s initiative ’a really exciting first step, but the next is to develop new ways to engage and strengthen the research’. She is disappointed that her first impressions of the study indicate a lack of engagement with the users themselves.

’They’ve done a lot of observational and behavioural analysis, but co-design principles don’t appear to be there,’ says Britton.

Dalke claims the research team did work with user groups, but says legal requirements for working with people with cognitive disabilities, which take six months to come through, meant ’we couldn’t sit down one-to-one with all the residents’.

Living with Dementia research

  • Design of care homes provides a major sense of well-being for dementia sufferers
  • Domestic-style lighting, tactility, curved corners, key colours for identifying areas of the home, and domesticstyle seating layouts are all of benefit to care home residents
  • Kitchen and bathroom design, indoor and outdoor seating, flooring, and leisure activities and games are identified as areas that require dramatic design innovation

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