Time is right for a new wave of dementia design innovation

A new wave of design innovation in our towns and cities to support the ‘hidden disability’ of dementia would have the added benefit of reducing stigma and raising awareness, according to Director of HammondCare’s Dementia Centre, Prof Colm Cunningham.

Writing in the 2019 Alzheimer Disease International Annual Report released on World Alzheimer’s Day (September 21), Prof Cunningham suggested the impetus may now be present to see dementia design innovation become prevalent in society. He said there was much to be learned from the progress made to support people with more visible disabilities.

“For example, access ramps into public buildings, pavement level access for public transport, accessible height cash machines. Strategic design underpins this progress, which is equally important in public spaces, care environments and in the home.”

Prof Cunningham said in the same way, building awareness of the need for design solutions in products and built-environment to better support people with dementia would go a long way to increasing overall awareness, acceptance and to reduce stigma.

“It can be daunting for businesses such as shops, banks, cafes, theatres, transport providers etc. to learn more about dementia and to start to look at dementia-related design.

“But in doing so they are not only fulfilling their role from a disability rights perspective but they are also sending out a strong positive message about their nature and their brand and… helping to increase awareness, which in itself can help reduce stigma.   

“Cost is always a barrier but increasing awareness, providing advice and often introducing low-cost solutions is a route to change.

“…we can decide where we spend our money, making a decision on a conference venue, a choice of hotel or restaurant and who we travel with should increasingly be based on their embracing of dementia considerate design and their investment in staff awareness.”

While the key principles for dementia design have been long known Prof Cunningham argues that “much more research is required… from diagnosis through to when symptoms are advanced and needs have changed.”

“A key design challenge for innovators will be to span the varied and individual needs of people with dementia while creating spaces that are both aesthetically pleasing and that satisfying the functional and at times complex care requirements of the people who live there.”

“The majority of people with dementia live in their own home and want to be part of their communities for as long as possible.

“It makes good economic sense to invest in the design of cities and communities that are able to support people with dementia. Without this, premature admission to care has not only a personal but financial cost,” Prof Cunningham said.

Design innovation will be key stream of the International Dementia Conference in Sydney in June 2020.

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