Skip to content

News & opinion

9 APR 2019

Building better homes for people with dementia

An innovative project is showcasing best practices in design and technology to assist people living with dementia.

The Building Research Establishment (BRE) has created a project to demonstrate how homes can assist those with dementia live independently for longer.

Dementia care costs families in the UK around £18bn a year. It affects about 850,000 people in this country alone, a figure expected to rise to more than a million by 2025, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. Two-thirds of dementia-related costs are paid by those who suffer from the condition and by their families.

Early diagnosis is critical so the correct medication can be prescribed and any adaptations to the home can be planned.

The BRE project, which has been named Chris and Sally’s house, has developed the Design for Dementia work carried out by Halsall Lloyd Partnership and Liverpool John Moores University and adapted it from new build to refurbishment, exploring the requirements and benefits of altering existing homes to meet the demands of our ageing population.

Dementia friendly house
Inside the new concept house created by BRE

Better insulation improves warmth, and the location of appliances, level access and wide doorsets allow for greater mobility within the home. The colour contrasts of walls, floors and furnishings can help residents navigate more safely around the home and prevent accidents. Views of green space also stimulate the brain, maintaining alertness.

Those with some forms of dementia can be distressed by unexpected noises that could be interpreted as an intruder in the home, so special care has been taken with insulation for acoustics as well as warmth. The washing machine has been isolated from the living area and visitors can be easily identified through adaptations such as well-connected rooms with clear sightlines to the external doors.

A stylish wet room has been fitted with handrails, as the walls have been strengthened and the dimensions are Part M-ready. The home is also equipped with plenty of IT infrastructure, such as monitors for temperature, humidity and movement, to test innovative assisted living technologies.

The home is equipped with plenty of IT infrastructure, such as monitors for temperature, humidity and movement, to test innovative assisted living technologies.

New design principles

The principles of the design include clear lines of sight and increased natural lighting, which is proven to help people to stay alert during the day and therefore sleep better at night, while noise reduction features can also lower stress, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

The ground floor is designed for early onset dementia where the resident can maintain independence through cooking and an active lifestyle. The upper floor demonstrates support for more advanced dementia, with the emphasis on 24-hour care. It has an additional carer’s bedroom, wheelchair charging points and the potential to install a hoist and a through-floor lift.

Built through partnership

Project partners included Rockwool, Azko Nobel, Ideal Standard and John Lewis Business. Loughborough University has, meanwhile, brought to the project its expertise in internal environments and physical exercise to stimulate the brain and protect against the condition.

Elderly man
The project shows how homes can help people with dementia live independently for longer

The university has developed a range of exercises and products, as well as assistive technology, to prompt residents to maintain activity and hydration. Sensors in the property detect activity, air quality and temperature levels and control ventilation to maintain comfort levels.

A suite of characters, such as Chris and Sally, has been devised by the university to represent different stages of dementia: in one case, Chris has dementia and his wife Sally is his carer. The characters give a sense of how the condition affects day-to-day life, and videos are available on the BRE website in which actors portray them. This enables comparison of good days, medium days and bad days, to build a better understanding of the impact on those with dementia, their carers and family.

The project will look to evaluate the marginal costs of incorporating the design principles into routine improvements and alterations. It will also inform homeowners and landlords on how to adapt their dwellings so that the residents can remain in their homes, near the support network of friends and family, with familiar surroundings that will help occupants remain independent for longer.

  • John O’Brien is associate director, construction innovation at BRE.

This article originally appeared in RICS Built Environment Journal April/May 2019 titled A Design for Life.