Homes for the ageing population

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The BRE Dementia Friendly Home stands on its Watford innovation park – a practical blueprint for the future of housing. That future is about new technology, yes, but that technology is deployed to address a growing issue: the number of people living with dementia.

According to the Association for Project Management’s Projecting the Future challenge paper on the ageing population, one in four people will be over 65 by 2050. In that time, the number of people living with dementia is set to rise to 2 million. It’s imperative that preparations are made now to be able to address the challenges that presents, from pressure on healthcare to wealth distribution to accessible properties.

The Dementia Friendly Home seeks to address some of those issues. The home uses a number of technologies that help empower elderly people to stay in their homes for longer. It’s designed to cater for different types and stages of dementia, allowing people to live independently.

The home is designed to look like a typical Victorian, two-up, two-down cottage, with two ‘personas’ in mind – ‘Chris’ and ‘Sally’. It was adapted to include clear lines of sight and colour-coded paths to help guide people towards specific rooms, increased natural lighting to help them stay alert during the day, automated ventilation controls, noise reduction features, simple switches and safety sensors in high risk areas, and a wheelchair accessible lift system.

It was designed by HLP Architects (HLP), in partnership with BRE and Loughborough University. HLP was instrumental in putting together the principles on which the Dementia Friendly Home was based – part of a wider initiative to determine what needs to be done in the construction industry to address the challenges of the ageing population.

Design for Dementia

Bill Halsall of HLP Architects and Dr Rob MacDonald of Liverpool John Moores University oversaw Design for Dementia – a wide-ranging research project to set a set of practical principles for dementia-accessible housing.

The overall aim was to come up with a plan that allows the 70-80 per cent of people with dementia that live in their own homes to be able to continue living independently. “Familiarity with surroundings is recognised as a key to reducing the symptoms and loss of function associated with dementia,” Write Halsall and MacDonald in volume one of the report. “By implication, if people can remain living in their own homes, and in their own neighbourhoods, then the disorientation, confusion and anxiety of a move to a new environment can be eliminated.”

“Design for Dementia was born out of a recognised need expressed by people living with dementia,” MacDonald explains. “It was important that we engaged and designed with and for the users. This is our long standing philosophy.”

A ‘practical first’ approach

The research was based on a participatory approach, using hands-on working methods to help the team better understand the experience of living with dementia. The team was primarily made up of practicing architects and designers – the intention being to ensure that whatever findings came out of the project had practical applications. A series of ‘living lab’ formats were used to ensure that the team developed a strong understanding of the challenges of living with dementia.

“The methodology was to engage in a number of ways,” says MacDonald. “A ‘sand tray’, cue cards and physical models, living labs. All these approaches enable us to work closely over a period of time with large numbers of people.”

Community collaboration

Halsall and MacDonald worked with Huyton Community Cooperative for the Elderly in Knowsley to help develop a collaborative design model. They worked with 32 elderly people to help them design their own dwellings, from initial layout to the details, such as accessible bathrooms and kitchens. The team set up ‘co-design’ workshops that enabled small groups of people to come up with ideas for dwellings, gardens, streets and environments, working with architects to create their own neighbourhoods – this created the basis for Merseyside developments such as Fieldway and Fairclough Road.

The ‘living lab’ took tables of six to ten diverse people, including those living with dementia, carers and healthcare professionals, to generate discussions about what might work. This involved several of the methodologies outlined by MacDonald.

Cue cards and ‘sand trays’

Sets of photographic cue cards were used to collect responses to images of inside and outside spaces. The participants were also asked: how dementia friendly is our city (Liverpool and Merseyside)? “This exercise has helped to highlight some of the difficulties experienced by people with dementia who use Liverpool City Centre and to identify potential design responses,” writes Halsall.

The ‘sand tray’ was a hands-on method using a set of objects including stones, sea shells, marbles, model houses and trees as well as moulds, sieves, spoons, buckets, and rakes. The aim was to stimulate all the senses in dementia patients to test what stimulants they reacted best to. Memory was stimulated through postcards, newspapers and other items from the sixties.

The ‘dementia bungalow’ model

Halsall and MacDonald created a large scale, foam board model to help explore ideas as to what the ideal design would look like. Mixed groups – again of carers, dementia patients and healthcare professionals – were shown the model and invited to respond to it, to see how they’d engage with the space.

The research provided the basis of three papers – a guide to dementia friendly design, an overview of the research projects involved in the overall programme, and the international implications of the work. They then applied their findings to the BRE Dementia Friendly Home. “The challenge is to keep this design momentum running,” says MacDonald. “We are influencing future design developments.”

The ageing population will inevitably affect projects, how do you think that demographic change and longer lives could affect the project profession? Let us know in the comments.

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Image courtesy of BRE Dementia Friendly Home

Mark Rowland

Posted by Mark Rowland on 22nd Oct 2019

About the Author

Mark Rowland is a senior writer on the Project editorial team. He has worked as a business journalist and editor for 15 years, and has won awards for his writing and editing. He has also worked in project and product management, overseeing the launch and continuous development of new websites and publications. Project is the official journal of the Association for Project Management (APM).

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