Jack Coutts - Liverpool Dementia Action Alliance

The spaces and places where we live should enhance our lives and promote opportunities for fulfilment. Often this isn’t the experience of people with dementia due to the difficulties caused by their condition conflicting with the design characteristics of many buildings and environments.

Altered perception can make stairs appear like a sheer drop, or rugs resemble a worrying hole in the floor. Signage which should be helpful can be confusing, or even invisible because of background colours used. These and many more problems can make the outside world hostile territory for people with dementia, reducing their ability to take part in simple everyday activities like shopping or using public transport, cutting them off from being involved in their own communities.

Dementia is a progressive disease, affecting 850,000 of the UK population, and a cure is still some way off. But the good news is that it’s possible to live well with dementia and thoughtful design can play a major role. A new landmark publication has arrived and is destined to provide a crucial reference work for architects, designers, engineers and planners who want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Design for Dementia comes in two volumes, a guide for the design of interior and exterior environments accompanied by an outline of the participatory research projects which informed production of the guide. It is an incredible achievement, an invaluable and accessible resource, fully and clearly illustrated with many drawings, details and images. 

It is also a fascinating account of the EU-funded collaboration between Architects / Designers Halsall Lloyd Partnership, Liverpool John Moores University, Merseycare NHS Trust and, centrally, people living with dementia and their family carers who are members of the Service Users group (SURF), a part of Liverpool Dementia Action Alliance. In fact, consumer participation has been the heart of the project and guaranteed its validity and value. The authors are perfectly suited to the task. Bill Halsall has an award-laden career history of participatory design success, including pioneering regeneration and redevelopment work with housing co-ops. Dr Rob MacDonald is Reader in Architecture at LJMU, researching into therapeutic environments and architecture for good mental health and wellbeing. Both are passionate advocates for people-focussed design and they are in constant demand for advice and contributions to academic and professional events.

Inevitably, Design for Dementia has built on and drawn upon previous highly commended work in this field, in particular that of Stirling and Worcester universities, the King’s Fund and Joseph Rowntree Foundation. But the quality of its user-led research and the clarity of its recommendations set it apart as not just a tool for designers but as the basis for a continuing campaign to address issues which constrain and confound the life opportunities of people living with dementia.

The scope of the guide is vast, taking in public realm place making, built form, residential design including a dementia bungalow, as well as pointers for dementia friendly neighbourhoods and cities.

Design for Dementia is a thoroughly welcome addition to the literature and deserves to be not just sitting on the bookshelves of everyone responsible for the commissioning, design and approval of external and internal spaces but it should be taken down and used, comprehensively and often.


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