Well-designed environments have major impacts on people living with dementia.
Some are simple things – like a change of colour – some more complex – like a different structural design – however what is clear is that more attention needs to be paid in every area of our communities, if we are to make the kinds of changes needed to enable people living with dementia to function in normal daily routines.
Like so many others, prior to my own mother’s awakening Alzheimer’s dementia, my only personal experience was a distant relative who lived a long way from us with young onset Alzheimer’s dementia, and who died very young.
None of my grandparents or any other family members had dementia, and so my only real information was a general understanding that if you had dementia, you lost your memory and eventually everything else that makes you the person you are.
What I didn’t realise is that there are over 100 causes of dementia, with the four most common being Alzheimer’s which accounts by just over 72% of all cases, Lewy Body, Vascular and Fronto-Temporal, and they all affect people differently.
Although each comes with its own set of symptoms and challenges, all people living dementia experience less ability to manage in what most of us consider to be normal environments and situations.
I encountered an outstanding example of how the physical environment can affect people living with dementia – and in point of fact, my first insight – at the end of 2018 when I attended the launch of The Virtual Dementia Tour in Australia about which I wrote a Blog that you can read here https://www.membonoticeboard.com/?s=virtual+dementia+tour
One of the keynote speakers who lives with younger onset dementia, and was telling a story about a friend of his who also lives with dementia.
That friend and his wife were in a shopping centre, and his friend went to the bathroom.
When he didn’t come out, his wife became worried and asked someone to go into the bathroom to see that he was ok.
The problem was that this man could not find his way out because there was nothing to help him delineate the exit – the floor was white, the ceiling was white, the fixtures were white, the door was white and there was no Exit sign.
With the visuo-spatial issues he experienced because of his dementia, he simply could not figure out how to get out.
Clearly this would be a terrifying experience for anyone, but for someone living with perhaps a range of challenges that might encompass light, reflections, colours, distance – need I say more?!
In many respects, it doesn’t take a lot to change environments.
The bathroom I spoke of is a good example – all that actually needs to happen is for the door to be painted a different colour and an Exit sign to be put clearly on display.
There are many environments that could be improved with relatively small changes, and I am delighted to be part of Dementia Australia’s initiative to build Dementia Friendly Communities, and the growing Dementia Friends community.
This entails actively engaging with business people and others with a view to these people influencing changes in their own situations that will result in more dementia-friendly spaces – commercial and otherwise.
What is interesting is that every conversation starts with a single person.
And whilst this person may be the CEO of a company or the General Manager of a shopping centre, he or she is still just a person with a personal story – and in my experience almost inevitably, there is someone in everyone’s life for whom dementia is a challenge.
Amongst some wondrous work being done in this field is that of artist Sharron Tancred who creates murals, and more recently, door disguises which change exit doors from potential sources of stress and confusion for people living with dementia, into something beautiful and calming.
This image demonstrates the incredible transformation from hospital-like exit to something extraordinary.
These primarily feature in residential care communities – at least for now – but the principals she subscribes to apply in a range of situations.
Sharron creates designs that transform spaces from the mundane and institution-like into beautiful, soothing interiors.
With the use of Colour Psychology, good designs can have profound effects for people with dementia.
They can increase appetites in dining rooms, engage communication within sitting rooms, relaxation in quiet places, and peacefulness in theatres.
There is much that can be done – in big ways, and in small ways.
If you are in a position to affect change in your business or organisation, I urge you to contact me, or if you prefer, Marie-Louise Bone at Dementia Australia, and her contact details appear below.
To contact me directly email firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact Marie-Louise Bone, Dementia Friendly Communities, Dementia Australia Marie-Louise.Bone@dementia.org.au
If you would like to learn more about artist Sharron Tancred, visit her website https://www.tailoredartworks.com.au/