Designing for Dementia Using the Six Sense Framework

When designing for dementia, it is imperative that you design with the user in mind. It can be an alienating and frightening disease that affects all their faculties – their ability to remember, focus and communicate as well as physically affect their basic motor skills and visual perception. Therefore it is imperative that as designers, we consider their needs and make the environment as comfortable and homely as possible.

When looking at the different facets of design for dementia, it is best done by considering how we take in our environment, and that is through our senses; our sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and (just to complicate things, I’ll add a sixth sense in that I find relevant), what we think about or spend time doing. We subconsciously take things in through our eyes, ears and sense of touch which forms our perception of our environment. To limit over stimulation of any of the senses, it is important that we keep everything as balanced and personal for the individual as possible.

How do we do that?

Sight:

  • Avoid wide open spaces and opt for small home-like rooms
  • Create visual cues to make wayfinding easier i.e. pictures of greenery and trees leading to the garden areas, personalised door decals on the residents bedroom door
  • Ensure appropriate lighting. Natural light is best. A lack of sufficient light can cause over-stimulation of the brain and make the resident disorientated. It can also be a safety hazard.
  • Choose your colours wisely. Avoid bright colours, particularly reds and yellows that will cause over stimulation. Muted tones creates a homely feel, however ensure sufficent contrast to improve the visual interpretaion of the space in the residents mind.
  • Use signage and decals that uses relateable images, rather than words
  • Ensure exit doors are well disguised to eliminate the desire for the resident to try and get out.

Sound:

  • Avoid any exposure to loud or potentially annoying noises
  • Avoid hard flooring that creates noisy foot traffic

Smell: Where possible ensure homely aromas are present, such as aromas of food cooking. Obviously ensure you eliminate any exposure to bad smells.

Taste: Ensure that the menu contains food and flavours that the resident is familiar with and enjoys.

Touch:

  • Use comfortable chairs and cozy furniture that the resident feels relaxed and at home in
  • Choose suitable flooring that is soft underfoot, such as carpet and vinyl, rather than tiles and timber floors.

Activites to engage in:

  • Have books available for reading or photos to look at. Once again images are better than words.
  • Avoid over exposure to the TV which may cause over-stimulation

There are a host of other ways to make your facility user-friendly and homely – but if you just run everything through the 6-Sense framework (sounds good doesn’t it!) and see how it stacks up, you cant go too far wrong. Just use your 6th sense.

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