The number of people diagnosed with dementia is increasing year on year with a projected 1 in 3 people born in the UK in 2018, developing dementia in their lifetime. An estimated 850,000 people with dementia are currently living with the condition and two-thirds of them are living in the community – mostly in mainstream housing. As a result, greater focus is now being placed on designing, refurbishing and creating homes for people that support them through every stage of their lives – through illness and changes caused by ageing.

The world’s leading building science centre, BRE along with Loughborough University, Halsall Lloyd Partnerships and Liverpool John Moores University have worked together to create a home which could change the way we live with dementia in the future.

The project, nicknamed Chris and Sally’s house after the avatars it was designed around, features a clever and innovative design to showcase how people with the condition can live independently for longer. The show home is a converted Victorian two up, two down house with 100 sqm of space.  It is divided into two parts – the downstairs area demonstrates a layout and design for a resident with early stages of the disease – where they can maintain independence through cooking and an active lifestyle. The upper floor is set up for someone with more advanced symptoms, with the emphasis on 24-hour care so to that end there is an additional carer’s bedroom, wheelchair charging points and the possibility to install a hoist with a lift.

The design used actors to recreate different stages of dementia and demonstrate how the house caters for their needs. The key design elements are:

  • Better insulation to improve warmth and to reduce unexpected noises which may distress some sufferers – for example the washing machine has been separated from the living area
  • Clear sight lines to the external doors to ensure that visitors can be easily identified to reduce anxiety and make the occupant feel safe and secure
  • An easy to use wet room, fitted with handrails and strengthened walls to prepare for any additional access needs
  • Lighting – the house cleverly incorporates a number of different lighting options for the evening and the house is flooded with natural daylight during the day, which can help people to stay alert and therefore sleep better at night
  • Wider door sets and level access to allow for greater mobility within the home
  • The walls, floors, and furnishings are all colour contrasted to help residents navigate more safely around the home and prevent accidents and falls
  • Clear views of green space which can stimulate the brain, maintaining alertness
  • Built-in sensors can detect activity, air quality, and temperature levels to help maintain activity and hydration.

By outlining the needs of people with dementia, this future-proof design could pave the way for a more ergonomic and ‘human’ approach to the design of housing in the future. The project also evaluates the costs of incorporating the design principles into routine improvements and alterations against the cost of providing care and assistance to a dementia sufferer living in a standard home. It would cost the NHS, local authorities and the families of sufferers less in the long run if every person affected by dementia was able to stay at home, maintaining their independence, for as long as possible. Leading to the conclusion that by keeping loved ones at home in their familiar surroundings, with the support and network of friends and family by their side enables them to live better for longer.