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Designing for Dementia

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Before the month is over, we would also like to highlight the observance of Alzheimer’s awareness.

Of the estimated 5.5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s dementia in 2017, an estimated 5.3 million are age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals are under age 65 and have younger-onset Alzheimer’s. One in 10 people age 65 and older has Alzheimer’s dementia. (

Everyone who has a brain is at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, a disease that is often misunderstood, as it is progressive and fatal, killing more than breast and prostate cancer combined.

To better the quality of life for people affected, care homes, staff training and well-designed physical surroundings may help residents maintain their existing skills and create opportunities for meaningful engagement between residents and staff.


Past efforts to interior design for memory care patients have incorporated tactics such as:

The racetrack concept

This concept is a way to allow people the opportunity to wander, while keeping them safe. Facilities that utilize this design allow residents to actively wander while always returning them to where they started. Avoiding dead ends or dark nooks can help keep people from getting lost or feeling trapped.

Doors or exits, where residents should not go can be hidden by curtains or painted the same color as the wall to help disguise them.

An example of encouraging safe wandering could be seen in senior care facility Autumn Leaves, where off-centered photos are strategically placed to encourage residents to keep walking.

When looking down the hallway, only a portion of the photo is visible, which signals to the residents that there is more to see and that they can continue down the next hallway.


Wayfinding is typically done through color on the walls or  floor, but it has been noted that dementia patients respond best to objects. Items like grandfather clocks, or a piano, at key decision points throughout the building can help residents navigate.

Unique objects on the wall may also help residents maintain a sense of order by providing visual cues as to where certain activities take place.

Themed facility wings may also help trigger residents’ memory.

Lantern dementia facilities features hallways carpeted green to resemble grass, ceilings painted with clouds and a main street complete with store fronts that mimic a neighborhood intended to cue and retrieve memories to help residents live a full and happy life

Textures and flooring

Textures and graphics must be true to what they are. If a railing or table looks like wood, but doesn’t feel like wood, it can be stressful for those with dementia. Because two separate signals are being sent to the brain, that of touch versus that of sight, the person is left with feelings of unease and confusion.

Contrast between flooring should also be minimum. Where two different patterns or flooring types meet, it may create concern about stepping into something new. Very dark carpets or floors should be avoided as they can be perceived as holes.

The David Walker Centre features a subtle, contemporary and co-ordinated colour palette to ensure suitability for all age groups including the visually impaired.


Even and consistent lighting can help residents move more easily throughout a space as dark spots can feel ominous to the brain and may cause distress.

Lighting color is also one of the most helpful hints to a resident’s circadian rhythm. Our bodies are wired to react to the natural light and this same reaction can be recreated using artificial lighting.

Thermal Comfort

The sense that we may be too hot or cold and the reaction to adapt to it by turning off the AC or putting on a sweater is something people with dementia may no long understand. On to top that, people living with dementia have also been known to be more sensitive to their environment. Because the connection between their sense of non-comfort and acting upon it has been lost, designers must be mindful of even factors such as thermostat location and availability, the potential for radiant heat to eliminate cold drafts, functional window treatments, and especially location of diffusers and major HVAC equipment.  Since we know that dementia patients do best when a solid routine is followed, it’s important that designers incorporate equipment maintenance practices that minimize disruptions to their daily routine by placing mechanical equipment outside of patient rooms when possible.


The flexibility to control stimuli is important so that environments can be tailored to the needs of individual residents. A room that includes the noise of a television, people moving through the space or that is too crowded can result in overstimulation and stress. People with dementia may not be able to process or block out multiple forms of conflicting information so the layout of a room needs to be throroughly considered to ensure stimuli are appropriate, clear and controllable.

A ‘reminiscence room’ filled with vintage furniture, photographs and art at Burley Hall, Dementia Unit, Burley-in-Wharfedale


Visual comfort, thermal comfort, and mental comfort umbrella a broad list of factors to consider when designing for Alzheimer’s and/or dementia care.

The most important issue in improving care is to try and best understand how the design of care home environments may impact the quality of care.

Design features, floorplan layouts and facilities can help to maintain a resident’s remaining strengths, improve working conditions and provide a better care culture for staff, residents and visitors alike.

Let us know how we can help you plan!



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