Designing for Dementia

With 850,000 people diagnosed with Dementia in the UK, and numbers set to rise to over 1 million by 2025, we urgently need to create accessible communities that enable those affected. We talked to Altro, a design company whose innovative products are helping to make environments more dementia-friendly.

Altro is well known for their pioneering safety floor and wall cladding. Can you describe what is special about your company’s approach and its products?

Altro have worked in the healthcare sector for over 60 years and we understand the importance of environment, particularly in the growing area of dementia care. Among the symptoms of dementia are an inability to discriminate between textures and a difficulty in seeing depth and contrast. We offer different surface finishes that help minimise any visual barriers that could potentially be an issue – our flooring and wall cladding help to distinguish where the floor and wall meet. This makes moving from one room to another easier and doesn’t create the feeling that the room is just one, indistinguishable space.

We make sure we use solid colours with no sparkle or chips in the floor, and a non-gloss finish. Patterned or flecked flooring can appear as though there is something on the floor in the way, and surfaces with a sparkle finish can look wet. Both effects can cause uncertainty which could lead to a fall. For the frail or elderly, a simple trip can have catastrophic and life-changing effects, which makes fall prevention measures vitally important.

One of the symptoms of dementia is a disorientation, which can even happen in familiar surroundings. How do your designs help with this?

Colour can help with orientation and create familiarity, which reduces stress. We have developed ‘way-finding’ or navigation designs that will trigger the memory and help people find their way about. Installing the same colour safety flooring in main areas encourages safe, confident movement. The idea is to keep people as independent as possible. Avoiding barriers between rooms, for example, from main corridors into bathrooms, can make a big difference.

We also create artworks to decorate communal areas in residential homes. Made from durable material, these combine photographic images – local landscapes or images from popular culture – which are both beautiful to look at and functional. These create continuity around the building and help with navigation. They can be used for entire walls, creating large, impactful areas, or for smaller areas to create interest. They also make the environment brighter and less clinical.

[x_blockquote cite=”Anthea Speich, Business Manager, Green Pastures Nursing Home” type=”left”]Altro’s flooring has completely transformed the foyer and lounge of our care home. The different tones have effectively demarcated the dining area from the lounge area, and created a space which is easier for our residents with dementia to understand.[/x_blockquote]

What other design features support people with dementia living in care homes?

The right décor creates a homely atmosphere which can make a big difference to those in residential care, helping to reinforce personal identity and enhance confidence. While safety, hygiene and durability are all important, we believe that colour and aesthetics have a huge impact on wellbeing and we encourage residents to select colours that they want to live with, that work for them. Once we’ve agreed on a colour palette, we use this throughout the whole building which creates continuity.

The clients we are currently working with have all requested ‘home from home’ designs. We offer a natural, wood-effect look for flooring that is warm and welcoming, and soft, organic colours, such as creams, beige, soft greens and stone are popular and said to have a calming influence. However, some residents go for vibrant, contrasting colour schemes – the choice of colour often depends on the demographic of the service users. Altro have been working to develop new shades and colour palettes in partnership with the University of Stirling’s renowned Dementia Services Development Centre. Creating accessible environments that increase the wellbeing, independence and confidence of those living with dementia is one of our highest priorities.

Altro products have already made a difference to the look, feel, safety and wellbeing of Livability service users’ lives both at Livability Bradbury Court and Livability New Court Place residential homes. They are members of the Dementia Action Alliance and follow the design principles outlined in the Department of Health’s Health Building Note on Dementia- friendly Health and Social Care Environments.