Indoor climate and well-being
Interior design

Designing for Dementia: Creating a Safe and Comfortable Interior Environment

In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that more than 55 million people suffer from dementia worldwide.¹ Dementia profoundly affects the daily lives of those who have it, affecting cognitive ability, motor perception, and language.

Interior Design for Dementia Patients

Interior space design for dementia patients should be comfortable and compensate for the impairments experienced by those with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is a general term that covers a wide range of conditions. Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia. Vascular Dementia is the second most popular. Dementia results in cognitive impairment. 

Those in the early stages of dementia may experience confusion, forget appointments, repeatedly lose their wallet or purse, or have difficulty preparing meals or travelling outside their immediate neighbourhood. Dementia is progressive.[2]

In the later stages of dementia, individuals lose their ability to carry on a conversation and control movement. They also may be unable to respond to their environment.

Interior Design Elements To Support Those With Dementia

Environmental factors can significantly impact dementia patients’ well-being. Current trends in dementia-friendly design promote independent living, improve confidence, and make the space easy to navigate. 

Some universal design principles apply. A dementia-friendly home also will unobtrusively reduce risks or unhelpful stimulation while optimising helpful stimulation, support movement, and create a friendly environment. It also will allow the individual to continue their daily tasks and complete their personal care regime independently for as long as possible.

Living spaces also should connote a familiar environment. Dementia design also should support meaningful tasks and promote safety and security, according to Dementia Australia.[4] One way to gauge the friendliness of interior design is to use an Environmental Audit Tool Handbook. [5]

Family members and designers can make small changes to create spaces with less risk. Examples are installing grab rails, removing trip hazards, and eliminating visual barriers between the bed and toilet.

Many people with dementia also find the glare from mirrors disconcerting; removing them or covering them with blinds is an option.

More substantial changes such as a renovation, can improve the dementia friendliness of a daily living space.  

When designing a new dementia care facility or renovating an old one, attention to several factors is essential. These factors are acoustics, natural light, soundscape, furniture, texture, and colour.


Natural Light Can Improve Vision and Mood

Lighting also can affect the quality of life for those with dementia. Many dementia patients, especially those with late stage dementia, no longer have good vision, so good lighting is critical. Research by an assistant professor at the University of California demonstrated that natural daylight can improve the moods of older people with dementia. In some cases, the light can decelerate the disease’s progress.[7]

Adequate natural light also is essential for individuals with dementia to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle and to help regulate their circadian rhythm.[8] Windows should be positioned to allow more light exposure, while light sources should be adjustable to reduce glare and accommodate different levels of light sensitivity. A reflective ceiling will draw in light and disperse it more reflectively.

Favourite Sounds Relax People With Dementia

Sounds also can have a negative or beneficial effect on people living with dementia, depending on the sounds. 

A USC student completed a thesis project in which she created a multisensory virtual experience for people with dementia living in nearby senior care facilities. The app allows older adults to be transported to any environment they choose. They simply tell their caregiver, and they can go virtually to the beach, the mountains, or a similar spot. 

They then experience the sounds, smells, and touch events from that destination. The research showed that the experience calmed people with dementia and their caregivers.[9]

A dementia friendly space should filter out background noises, while including calming sounds such as white noise and nature sounds.


Texture Can Create a More Familiar Environment

Surrounding the individual’s space with familiar objects can calm them and re-enforce a sense of identity. If the person has made a quilt or macrame wall hanging, including it in a prominent spot in the room can help orient them, for example. Also, textured floorings, such as carpeting or rugs, can provide a sense of grounding, while textured walls or furniture can add a tactile dimension to the space.

Communal living facilities can include a variety of textures in common rooms so that residents can gravitate toward those that ground them. For example, the same room might include a knitted blanket, a lace tablecloth, and a suede cushion. [10] Too much texture, however, can backfire by overstimulating the resident.

Colour Psychology in Designing for Dementia Patients

The use of colour in spaces of people with dementia also can impact well-being, either positively or negatively. Bold colours can overwhelm the individual, while pale colours can create a sense of emptiness.

Environmental psychology research shows that blue lowers blood pressure and calms the individual. It makes rooms appear more prominent. It also is a good choice for silverware because it contrasts with the food.[11]

Green is another good colour choice because it also helps individuals stay calm. Research shows that lime green may be a good colour for providing visual cues for those with dementia. [11] For example, it might help them find the bathroom or their walker.