As an Architect, I’ve been designing Care Homes for a long time, now, and I’m still learning!
It seems obvious, but it’s really important to remember that the end product is going to be someone’s actual ‘home’. Most of our Care Homes have to be adaptable to cope with all kinds of care needs but, increasingly, the needs of dementia sufferers have to be considered. From a design point of view, this means that careful attention must be paid to the materials and finishes used in Care Homes.
Since 2003, when Stirling University launched their Dementia Studies for Professionals working in the field of old age and dementia, the University has been one of the leading authorities on dementia and how to care for people suffering from it. They give guidance on how to provide a suitable environment for people with dementia, rating the suitability level as bronze, silver or gold.
I attended one of their open courses in 2005, and another one more recently with Katherine and, while some theories remain just that, many more are being put into practice by more and more Care Providers, and certainly by those that we work with.
With more than 800,000 people in the UK already suffering from dementia, and the figure predicted to double in the next generation, The Alzheimer’s research Trust and Oxford Dementia 2010 consider that dementia is the greatest medical challenge of our age, beyond even that of cancer and heart disease.
So, it’s a challenge for Care Providers, as well, and therefore for the architects designing the Homes where dementia sufferers will be cared for.
We hear and read shocking stories of Care Home Residents with dementia whose dignity and precarious mental state are threatened and abused, and we are righty incensed on their behalf. But thankfully it’s not the whole story. I deal with Care Providers who aren’t interested in providing a level of care that’s anything less than the Gold Standard set by Stirling University. They’re following the guidelines for how their Homes should be decorated and furnished, and they’re training their staff to provide appropriate and nurturing care for their Residents with dementia. They don’t want to just ‘cope’ with Residents with dementia, they want to go further and try to enhance the quality of their living.
With an already huge problem that’s going to get worse, Architects and Care Providers have to equip themselves with as much information as they can to understand the problems and the needs of dementia sufferers, and then put that knowledge into practice.