Creating a Dementia friendly home

Why is designing homes for people with dementia important?

“Getting design right can make a fundamental difference to the lives of people with dementia.  It improves their life experiences and can increase life expectancy”

The Dementia Centre

What are the issues?

More than 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, with numbers expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. Dementia is a huge issue for the UK and the world. The cost to the UK is already around £23 billion per year, and is set to rise to £27 billion by 2018. Globally the estimated costs are $604 billion – 1% of global GDP.  It is therefore vitally important that whether we are designing homes specifically for older people, or with everyone in mind – we make sure they incorporate principles that help.

Helping people remain independent is really important, as not only can it help them remain in their own home for longer, but it also helps improve their quality of life – and that of their carers and families.

How can architectural design help?

We want to find ways to design homes to help alleviate the feelings of isolation and fear that many people with dementia encounter. We feel there is an opportunity to improve the overall quality of life for people with dementia which could reduce the need for expensive hospital care.

Loft interior_edited-1

Loft bedroom – later living home for McCarthy & Stone.


5 Principles for Housing Design for Dementia

As a starting point here are 6 design principles for developing supportive design to help people with dementia lead a more enjoyable life.

1. Encourage Meaningful Activity by integrating gardens into the design, providing places to walk with frequent resting places, forming social spaces where people can meet, talk and form friendships.

Terrace barbeque

Garden design giving covered outdoor space for sitting with family.


2. Enable familiarity make sure dining areas include smaller more intimate spaces that feel more homely, use recognisable sanitary ware and include photographs of local places to jog memories.


Well defined spaces within open plan layout drawing in light and views.


3. Help aid legibility by creating good site lines and uncluttered spaces.  Make sure lighting is even and use natural daylight wherever possible.  Don’t use shiny floor coverings or confusing patterns, but use soft surfaces that help reduce background noise.

Terrace open plan living room

Dining spaces that are domestic in scale help provide the feeling of being at home.


4. Support Orientation by integrating artworks that reflect the seasons, draw in more natural daylight and integrate external spaces within the design.  Create framed views of the landscape and nature.  Make sure staff spaces are easy to find and staff are visible.

Dinner in Maisonette_edited-1

Drawing in views of the landscape and nature to create calm and relaxed places.


5. Help Wayfinding by using accent colours both in the interior and exterior, using sculpture or building features, clearly identifying bedrooms and social spaces, using pictures for signage along with text.

The Outcomes

Decision making should be eased reducing the agitation and stress that frequently accompanies dementia.  People can become more independent and will hopefully interact more with others in their care home or development, which helps with wellbeing and happiness.  Homes should feel and be safer, which also helps encourage people to get out, walk around and socialise.  Further blogs will look at some of these design principles in more detail and how we can implement them to provide spaces that really help make a difference.


Study of 3 Care Homes in Switzerland

We are interested in these examples in Switzerland of housing and specialist care home buildings. These examples have a lot of people waiting to move in…

WohnenPlus, Flaesch

In the centre of a small village stood this old building which has been renovated. It had a small shop on the ground floor and the other floors were not really used for any purpose. The building has a lovely scale with a simple, traditional form and details. However the internal mix of uses and the adventurous plan layouts are innovative.

The new concept of the housing includes an enlivened village-shop and new apartments on the second and third floor.

On the 1 Floor there is a lunch table arrangement for school kids and elderly people to share at lunch time which is run by the community or church group. This also has a communal kitchen so support the lunch club.

The apartments have a separate more private entry door, so does the shop and the lunch table with attached all-purpose-room.

All of the tenants are offered support from a care company and each apartment has an emergency call system linked to the care company.

Area of Frauensteinmatt, Zug 

The project includes four different sized buildings within the development site, located on the edge of Lake Zug.

With the help of angled elevations the bigger building appears smaller and the opening corridors to the middle of the plans fill the building with light. The configuration of glazing on the balconies to the apartments helps to create wonderful uplifting light spaces to the inside of the rooms.

The biggest building is the care home with full care hospital rooms.

The other three buildings are traditional housing apartments with a mixture of family apartments and retirement apartments.

The landscape was carefully shaped to create winding paths throughout the site with hidden bench / seating places and other areas for relaxation across the site.

New Care Home Holzlegistrasse, Winterthur

The interesting complex of three buildings which are designed around the cluster model / layout and are connected underneath at ground level.

Across each building the feel is like a private villa of apartments, but with the three buildings achieves the necessary urban density.

The floor layout remains almost the same in each apartment: the entrance connects bath, utility, bedroom and living room. The layout of each apartment on the corner of the building ensures that all of the rooms have windows to natural light, giving great connection to the views.

Designing for Disabilities – a personal view

It is a difficult day when you suddenly realise your parents are getting older and that they will increasingly need your help. For me it was when my Mum had a stroke 3 years ago and became paralysed, not able to speak or communicate. The long journey of recovery is still going, but with the amazing care from the NHS and dedication and love from my Dad and our family she can now walk with a frame and although she can’t do everything on her own she still able to live at home.

Mum’s stroke really made me think a lot about the way we design for people with disabilities, after all a huge number of our population don’t fit into the categories we design for – 1.8m tall able bodied probably male.

We had to add extra handrails to the stairs, which despite Dad’s best efforts do not add to the design qualities of the house! We had to add a walk in shower where the airing cupboard used to be and then there was all the kit Mum needed; the bed that moves up and down, the chair that supports her at the right height, the walking frame…

None of this kit was designed to look good let alone contemporary. I started to search the internet for things that had been designed to look good, maybe even stylish…. Mum understandably doesn’t want to be considered ‘old’ and all the things she had to introduce into her life were grey, ugly and un un-inspirational.

Mum has many things that she enjoys doing, she loves gardens and bird watching and she is part of a patchwork group that meet weekly for chat, tea and sewing.  About 7 years ago I designed Mum and Dad an extension that opened up the back of the house and gave them an open plan kitchen dining room. This is where Mum now spends most of her time.  She can feel like she’s sitting in the garden and there is space for her friends to come for coffee and a chat, because the kitchen is accessible she doesn’t have to walk far to make a cup of tea.  Later if Mum does need to sleep downstairs the new space means she can do so without many alterations being made to the house.

Mum and Dad’s extension has given them a huge amount of flexibility and importantly a social hub to the home which was lacking in the formal cellular arrangement of the original 60’s house.

The Consultation Process: Let’s talk, let’s draw!

Our 4 hour consultation is a fantastic way to kickstart your project.  We visit you in your home and develop sketches with you at your kitchen table.

Within a fixed time frame, we talk with you and then then get drawing, leaving you with some key sketches summarising our discussions.

We view the consultation as a time for stretching the imagination whilst recognising the features you value most, aiming to understand how you live now and your vision for the future.

We are fascinated by the patterns in our daily lives and how a space can best facilitate the activities we love to do most….

A number of themes emerged from our most recent design consultations:

1. The layout we know and love

It’s natural to become fond of familiar layouts where we carry out daily rituals in a certain way. Being highly adaptable and enjoying routine, it’s not uncommon to make spaces work for us even when they don’t quite fit the bill.

Listening to how you envisage using your space and in interpreting these ideas into layouts may challenge the way you have been used to inhabiting your home. We might suggest alternative room layouts and functions which stretch the imagination… and possibility.

2. Links: The functional and the beautiful

Creating efficient circulation space between a main house and a proposed extension can be a challenging prospect. With additions to an existing form, it is easy for old and new spaces to feel disconnected by dark internal corridors.

An elegant glazed link can offer a light connection between spaces in the existing and proposed, as well helping to reduce the visual impact on sensitive areas of the building. By allowing a little extra width on the link, a simple passageway can house that much needed wall of storage or a comfy chair to enjoy the view.

3. Dedicated space for a hobby

Fast paced lifestyles often don’t leave much time for enjoying leisurely pursuits, but putting yourself first every now and again certainly isn’t a bad thing. Why not create a space with a distinctive ambience for housing that grand piano – tinkling the ivories whilst enjoying views out to the garden?

By varying the window and door design, incorporating such a space into a wider open plan extension is one approach. A horizontal slot window set at optimal piano playing eyeline would focus the view outside, whilst recessed ceiling down lighters can enhance the showtime mood!

Although flexibility is an important part of modern life, a special feature like the slot window designed around a much loved activity can really add that distinctive personal touch.

4. To blend or not to blend

When extending from an existing building, theres always the question of style. Instinctively we appreciate designs which are of their time rather than those which try to imitate the historic so finding the right balance of form and materials is key.

A design which demonstrates clear yet sensitive delineation between old and new can be something really special.

5. The heart of the home 

There’s usually one existing space in the heart of the home with a valued character – often cosy ‘fireplace’ rooms in the centre of the plan. Preserving these spaces while relocating the more manic daily happenings to the flexible extension is a natural approach.

Identifying those cherished spaces is just as important as working out new layouts. A considerate design can enhance and integrate these areas with new parts of the building.


Funky Bungalows : the contemporary features

We are developing a renewed fondness for the single storey dwelling so iconic of English suburbia.

Level access, connection with garden, privacy are all reasons why bungalows have been so popular with the older generation for a length of time. Alongside these attributes, the traditional typology may also contribute to feelings of Isolation, a large footprint challenging to maintain and high energy bills.

So how can this winning formula be reinterpreted to suit the aspirations of todays baby boomers?

Our recent research and design work with Redrow homes on a scheme for Extra Care Apartments in Dawlish reinforced the benefits of flexible layouts, a strong connection to outside space and opportunity for social interaction.

We believe a well designed single storey dwelling can provide a living environment attuned to the evolving interests and needs of the older generation who are seeking a desirable affordable option for downsizing from a family dwelling.

Our top five contemporary bungalow features:

1) Vaulting ceilings allows opportunity for large amounts of natural light, as well clever and compact mezzanines, creating extra space for when family and friends come to visit.







2) The large, en-suite, attic bedroom is much appreciated by downsizers. By viewing the internal volume as a whole, we can maximise the efficiency through playful vertical and horizontal division of space.







3) Taking the low density detached bungalow profile and re-configuring the layout to a terrace or courtyard formation, naturally providing increased opportunity for social engagement.







4) Minimising circulation space with open plan layouts and level thresholds, allowing ease of inhabitation across internal and external spaces and connection with the outside from all living areas.





5) Individual Gardens and courtyards which are compact, adaptable and easy to maintain – offering scope for keen gardens, pet owners and those who like to entertain.





The number of bungalows being built has remained constant for the last 10 years and with our ageing population, demand is soon likely to exceed supply. Now is the opportunity to take our love of the bungalow to the next level, to thoroughly engage through thoughtful design.

More content you might like:

What do the over 60’s look for in a new build

Designing for a lifetime

Silver Linings


What do the over 60s look for in a new build?

The number of over 60s living in the UK is continuing to rise. Designers and developers need to understand the needs of this section of the population.

There are a lot of assumptions around what the over 60s look for in a living space, but we’ve found through our work with a number of retired clients, that a lot of those assumptions are completely wrong.

So what is the older generation looking for in a home right now? There are some clear themes emerging in the briefs we’re getting from older clients. Here’s a brief rundown of our research into trends in later living design, and an overview of the emerging trends and themes.

The spirit of adventure and a passion for good design

Our clients are passionate about good design and want to make sure their homes reflect their continuing active lifestyles. They want to feel they have a home that is the envy of their friends and that they can show off to family and relatives. Older people also want to feel current and up to date in their choices – in fact in our experience older clients are more adventurous than the younger clients and families we work with. Perhaps that’s because this is their opportunity to have exactly what they want without considering a future purchaser or how the market might develop. It’s also important to remember that a lot of these clients were exposed to contemporary design over 50 years ago and aren’t afraid to be bold in their choices.

017-LSA_StokePoges_Bonus_04 copy


7 top trends for later living

  1. Double height spaces with views to the sky are in high demand. Whereas some developers might see this as a waste of space, our clients value the fact that this creates spaces that give us a better sense of well being and are uplifting to the spirit.
  2. Open plan spaces with room for a large table, somewhere to sit for coffee and a lovely large contemporary kitchen with all the latest gadgets.
  3. Cold rooms and larders are extremely popular now with lots of shelves – along the lines of television cook Nigella Lawson’s iconic larder. These rooms naturally need to be placed on the north side of the house where possible and some clients are adding temperature controls.
  4. Lots and lots of storage space is essential. Storage rooms, corridors and storage walls feature as a part of our designs. We all accumulate so much stuff these days and the traditional loft space is becoming a thing of the past with open ceilings and mezzanines taking its place. A house with plenty of storage is now preferable to a house with plenty of toilets! Developers take note.
  5. Timber frame and Kit houses are being requested by clients a lot. The likes of Baufritz and Hans Haus are premium products with a price to match, but the ease and speed with which they are constructed makes them a popular choice.
  6. Sustainable Design is crucial to older clients, they understand that they have the opportunity to make sure their homes will be cheaper to run and better for the environment; not just for them but ensuring the fabric of the house is well insulated and sealed beyond building regulations requirements and that the materials used are sourced responsibly.
  7. Cutting edge technology – our clients want to be ahead of the game and enjoy being new adopters.

We have frequently heard it said that if you design a product that appeals to a younger person today it will also be attractive to an older person. Age is now irrelevant what is important is good design. What this doesn’t take account of is that the older generation actually want to be ahead of the game, they want to be the ones taking risks and trying out new technology first. In my mind that makes designing for later living the most exciting sector to be working in right now. It could offer the opportunity for design, research and development that will help us create homes and environments that are better for all sections of the community.

More content you might like:

Designing for later living

Lifetime design

5 things the over 70’s can’t live without

Sign up for our newsletter here