Dementia is the second leading cause of death of Australians, affecting over 440,000 Australians. The disease affects memory and motor skills, and can cause the sufferer to become alienated from the larger society they once were part of. People with Dementia account for over 50% of all residents in nursing homes Australia-wide – making it essential for Aged Care facilities to know how to effectively and safely care for their residents suffering from Dementia and other cognitive disorders.
It’s widely known that a familiar environment and consistency is key for those suffering from Dementia; however, this luxury is sometimes just not attainable for those without carers or family around to help, or for the more advanced cases of Dementia who require more care.
So, How Can We Help?
Now, more than ever, we must try to find new ways to help those with Dementia to continue living a fruitful and happy life. This task is particularly challenging for residents new to nursing homes, where unfamiliarity with their surroundings and a change of regime can cause a culture-shock. A growing trend within nursing homes that accommodate cognitive-affecting disorders, such as Dementia, is the implementation or simulation of real-world situations within a controlled and safe environment.
Examples in the Community
A nursing home in Weesp in the Netherlands has proven the popularity of this trend with their facility-wide redesign of a previously traditional layout, with the inclusion of everyday sights and places, such as a park, a fully functioning grocery store, and even a quaint cafe for residents to grab a cup of coffee. Eloy van Hal, the facility manager, emphasises the importance of autonomy for these residents, without risking a loss of safety for both workers and residents alike.
Similarly, a nursing home in Bradford, England, has used the combination of technology and design to create ‘train carriages’ inside the facility, where residents can enjoy the experience of train travel, including ticket offices, without having to leave the building.
Credit: The Gateway Care Home
This trend is slowly catching on throughout Australia as well, with facilities, such as St. John’s in Toowong, QLD, creating a specific ward for those with Dementia, with a bus stop and garden, where residents can retain a sense of normalcy in a new, unfamiliar environment.
Never fear – you don’t need to build cafés and fountains to effectively help your residents suffering from Dementia. Here are a few tips courtesy of Dementia Australia that may assist in the comfort of your residents with Dementia:
- Be aware of visual and acoustic surroundings, and think about how physical surroundings can trigger behaviours
- Create environments that are small and home-like, ensure rooms have different functions and break down larger spaces into zones
- Ensure spaces feel relaxed and have the qualities and comforts of home – like cosy furniture, aromas of food cooking and books to read
- Design spaces that are culturally and generationally appropriate – in relation to the fittings, entertainment and everyday household items
- Reduce the impact of internal noise by turning off unnecessary devices, e.g. not leaving the TV on all day because of the assumption that people are interested
- Choose suitable floor materials, e.g. carpet and vinyl rather than tiles as these are softer materials and help to minimise noise and foot traffic
- Improve the visual interpretation of the person's space by using appropriate colour contrast
- Create an appropriate lighting level so that the person can clearly see what's around them
- Use signage that includes images so that the person can understand and be supported in their independence
- Ensure safe and easy access to outside areas, with doors to outdoor garden spaces clearly visible
So, in essence, although it will always be difficult transition from everyday life to Aged Care for those suffering with Dementia, healthcare workers in these environments have the ability to ease this transition through strategic design and an emphasis on familiarity and autonomy for their residents – keeping everybody safe and happy.