Designing for dementia

1st March 2019

Altzheimers istock 875810418

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Planning ,
  • Society


Katie Jayne Anderton

Laura Archer of IEMA Futures sets out how careful design can help people living with dementia to go about their lives – something Newcastle University's NU-Age module is encouraging students to think about

Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability, with symptoms including memory loss and difficulty with problem solving or language. It can also have an effect on a person's mood or behaviour, and interfere with daily life. It is most common in older people, and the most common form is Alzheimer's.

There are roughly 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. This is only set to increase: research by the Alzheimer's Society predicts there will be one million people living with dementia in the UK by 2021, and two million by 2051. This article looks at how changing details of design in places could make life a lot easier for people with dementia.


It is imperative that the design and location of housing for older people and those with dementia is carefully considered, located within a community with only a short distance (five-10 minutes) away from local amenities – while keeping things as normal as possible. This encourages and enables independent living.

When designing housing, less is more. Step-free apartments, plenty of lighting, signage and helpful aids such as handrails can have a huge impact. Those with dementia can be sensitive to noise, so this should be another factor when deciding on the location of the housing. Ensure that appropriate soundproofing is taken throughout the living space.

Attention to colour choice also has positive implications. Contrasting colours on doors, stairs and handrails draw attention to the feature, making it easier for someone with dementia to get around and building their confidence. Considered colour choices can help everyone as they get older, not just those living with dementia, as many people experience changes to vision as a result of ageing.

Out and about

It is vital that places are well signed and only a short walk away. Signage should be simple and frequent to ensure it is easily followed. Landmarks, architectural features and even something as simple as a bench can also aid with navigation.

Open and green space has been proven to have endless benefits for people, and there is no exception for those living with dementia. Open space should be well designed with good lighting, benches and toilets, and should be located where noise levels are minimal. It can also be incorporated into housing developments – for those who aren't able to leave the house, connecting with nature through viewpoints and windows can be beneficial.

Shops are increasingly training staff members to be able to assist customers with dementia. There are normally help desks in shopping centres with large information signs to make them easy to find.


It is important that people are taught about illnesses such as dementia so that mitigating elements can be incorporated into future developments. Newcastle University offers the option to study a cross-faculty module about ageing: Newcastle Ageing Generations Education (NU-AGE). The aims of the NU-Age module include:

  • Demonstrating the relevance of ageing in the modern world, with examples arising from a range of disciplines including health, engineering and the arts
  • Emphasising positive concepts relating to ageing, such as 'ageing well', the maintenance of health, and anti-ageist approaches to public engagement
  • Facilitating interaction between students and older people and creating opportunities for co-learning
  • Raising awareness of the different ageing-related research currently being undertaken at Newcastle University, in all three faculties.

In this module, a number of different concepts and issues related to ageing are studied – but with a twist. You are joined in lectures by older, retired people, who offer their views on and experiences with ageing. It is also a useful way for older people to stay in touch with the university. Bringing education and intergenerational engagement together is a unique and brilliant concept, which other universities should adopt.

To find out more about the module, visit

Image credit: iStock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

How much is too much?

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Vanessa Champion reveals how biophilic design can help you meet your environmental, social and governance goals

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

Senior consultant, EcoAct

3rd April 2024

Read more

Five of the latest books on the environment and sustainability

3rd April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close