Theresa May’s policy idea for a “dementia tax” went down like a lead balloon during the last general election. Although it was poorly communicated by May’s team, the policy was actually a response to a very legitimate issue. An ageing population unfortunately means an increasing number of people with dementia, a number that is reach 1 million people by 2025 and more than 2 million by 2051. Dementia is a cruel condition, and in many cases one that robs people of their ability to live independently. As a result, it requires a specific kind of supported housing.
The type of supported housing that a dementia sufferer will need usually depends on the stage of their dementia. In essence, there are three different categories: assisted living, extra care, and independent supported living.
Assisted living takes the form of a series of flats or bungalows, monitored by a warden who can be signalled with a fitted alarm. It is generally for those 60 years old and above, but will not provide a carer or extra social care staff—these need to be acquired privately.
Extra care housing is similar to assisted living, but has on-site carers. This type of housing also has communal areas where residents can spend time and enjoy leisure activities together. Staff will help with things like washing and dressing if need be. However, only a limited number of these types of homes are actually designed for dementia sufferers, another example of the catch-up work the UK needs to do.
Independent supported living is unlike the others, in that residents essentially form new families with other dementia sufferers. They live in communal housing and help to look after each other, alongside dedicated care staff. This option is likely to grow in availability due to the number of dementia sufferers currently struggling and living alone.
When building homes specifically for dementia sufferers, there are a series of design additions to consider. Colour is an important one—coloured doors for bedrooms and bathrooms are helpful, as well as clear labelling. Copying the colours used in a resident’s previous home is a good idea, as is creating contrast. Using different, bold colours helps dementia sufferers to find their way around their new surroundings, as well as locate light switches and appliances. This is an example of ‘helpful’ stimulation.
However, ‘unhelpful’ stimulation is very important to avoid in the design of homes for dementia sufferers. An example of unhelpful stimulation is the presence of too many doors or signs. This is the case in many hospitals, where a glut of signs, doors and warnings can be paralysing. If converting a home for use by those with dementia, consider covering unused doors with paintings, partitions or murals. This also helps if there are areas where residents are supposed to keep out of. Any signage (for things like bathrooms or toilets) should be clear, simple and carry both words and images.
Similar to the design for shared housing that we touched upon in an earlier post, supported housing for dementia should give residents spaces where they can interact with others and spaces where they can be alone.