Designing Dementia-friendly communities

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Designing Dementia-friendly communities

An increasingly ageing population has brought the issue of dementia into sharp focus. People with dementia, when out of the comfort of their own home, can sometimes struggle to navigate their way around. However, designing communities for people with dementia is not as complicated as you might think.

Laura B. Alvarez, Co-Founding Director of alkiki Community Interest Company,explains more about planning communities to cater for people with dementia.

Below are some key principles of urban design that, when put into practice, can help sufferers navigate spaces with much more independence:

1. Using a variety of urban landmark tools can help people identify routes:

- SYMBOLISM: historic buildings, war memorials, churches, gateways

- DISTINCTIVENESS: clock towers, public art, phone boxes, seating, shelters

- ACTIVITY: mixed-use squares, parks and playgrounds

- COLLECTIVE MEMORY: GP surgery, schools, pubs

2. Designing with a variety of carefully combined, different materials, colours and textures can help distinctiveness.

3. Using small design features to add distinctiveness in specific locations, such as chimney pots, different front doors or bay windows.

4. Creating landscape landmarks such as larger front gardens or unique trees can help navigation.

5. Designing simple, well-connected, gently winding street layouts with uncomplicated road junctions, as these are the easiest to use and understand.

6. Providing clear signposting by creating clear ‘end-views’ to short streets.

7. Taking care to position design features in meaningful locations, avoiding clutter. Too much visual stimuli can have a negative effect causing confusion and a lack of concentration.

8. Designing plain signs with large, dark lettering on a light background, as these are the easiest to read and understand. Many older people experience colour agnosia, a condition that makes it difficult to distinguish colours.

9. Avoiding changes in levels and designing flat, wide footways with gentle ramps, allowing people with walking aids to pass oncoming pedestrians.

10. Using controlled crossings, such as the pelican crossing, as these are the safest means of crossing the road.

In summary, places that are dementia friendly are familiar, distinctive, accessible, comfortable and safe. These characteristics of place are positive for everyone and adhering to them will help people designing places achieve more inclusive, relaxing environments.

In future, more answers for designers will come from a deeper understanding of the condition and a greater familiarity with specific behaviours in the public realm. Place designers need to understand the challenges ahead and be open to working with other experts on the issue of an aging population. To partake in a healthy and positive debate that can push the boundaries of what might become acceptable in the future. Embracing this collective effort could make another valuable contribution towards achieving a more sustainable future.

jonathan casciani