A suite of design principles tailored to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia is shaping aged care facilities across the state.
By Katie McDonald, Business News

The aged care sector’s signature clinical-style design is set for a major overhaul, according to SPH Architecture + Interiors, who says providers are increasingly seeking to create a more-homely environment. Besides the visual appeal, the SPH architecture + interiors director said tailoring the design of these environments could positively impact residents’ wellbeing, particularly those living with dementia.

SPH Architecture + Interiors said this design concept had been around for a number of years, but due to the growing prevalence of dementia and people entering aged care systems at a later age, SPH was now applying these principles across entire facilities.
According to Dementia Australia, more than 400,000 Australians are living with the condition, with this number expected to increase to more than 500,000 by 2025. “Design is a powerful tool – An architect’s role is to shape design for specific needs”.
“Historically, care has been delivered in a very institutional environment, but we’ve reached a point now where clients have realised they don’t want to do that anymore. “For people living with dementia, traditionally you would have had secured lockdown wards; now we’re trying to open it up and allow people to wander freely and access outdoor areas in a safe way.”
SPH specialises in aged care design, with clients including St Ives, Juniper and Amana Living. Its latest project, Narrogin Cottage Homes, a $6 million, 20-bed addition to an existing 35-bed facility, was completed earlier this month.
SPH Architecture + Interiors said it embodied a number of design principles that encouraged residents’ independence by creating an enabling environment. This included designing the floorplan to create a wandering loop – an area for a resident to wander down a corridor, through the lounge, into the courtyard garden and back round again.

SPH architect and interior designer Cherie Kaptein, who has a nursing background, said the team had used colour as an unobtrusive means to guide residents through the building and to form boundaries.
“We’ve got a dark floor over the nurse’s station because we don’t want the residents to wander in there,” Ms Kaptein told Business News.
“When you’re vision impaired you can perceive that as an obstacle or a hole in the ground, so it stops people from walking over that space. Dementia affects people differently; there are some who wander and if you try to restrict what their bodies are telling them to do they can get distressed, so you’ve got to give them freedom. In one project in Holland, the use of antipsychotic drugs went down because they allowed people to roam around,” she said.

Ms Kaptein said the Narrogin project also featured timber and white wardrobes designed by Alzheimer’s WA; the timber is visible but the white, for the resident, blends in with the wall so they don’t access that section. Transparent memory boxes have been built into the walls at the entrance of each bedroom in which residents can place personal items such as photographs or other memory-stimulating objects, enabling them to better identify their room. The Narrogin project includes building materials designed to evoke familiarity and memories of the environment outside the facility by incorporating a stonewall fireplace, rustic fittings and timber beams reminiscent of the local farming community, as opposed to modern steel.

“For people living with dementia, traditionally you would have had secured lockdown wards; now we’re trying to open it up and allow people to wander freely and access outdoor areas in a safe way” – SPH Architecture + Interiors


*This article originally appeared in Business News on December 18, 2017 and was written by and supplied to SPH by Katie McDonald, Business News Journalist.