The hospital setting can be disorienting at the best of time but when someone has dementia this can be magnified tenfold. According to more than 850,000 people in the UK have dementia. One in 14 people over the age of 65 have dementia, and the condition affects 1 in 6 people over 80, with the number of people increasing due to longer life spans.

While there’s not yet a cure for dementia, there are ways that healthcare facilities can create an environment that better supports the wellbeing and safety of patients with dementia.

To help us understand the thought behind dementia-friendly design first let’s look at some of the common symptoms of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, Alzheimer’s causes several changes in the brain and body that may affect safety. Depending on the stage, these can include:

  • Judgment: forgetting how to use everyday appliances
  • Sense of time and place: getting lost easily.
  • Behaviour: becoming easily confused, suspicious or fearful.
  • Physical ability: having trouble with balance.
  • Senses: experiencing changes in vision, hearing, sensitivity to temperature or depth perception.

So, it is no surprise that most healthcare facilities — which are large-scale, complex, and overstimulating by nature — often exacerbate symptoms for those dealing with cognitive impairment.

By taking measures to improve safety you can prevent injuries and help a person living with dementia feel at ease and maintain his or her independence longer.

With the growing recognition that the built environment has a direct link to patient outcomes, hospitals are stepping up to create safer, more welcoming spaces for those with cognitive challenges for example:

  • Epsom and St Helier have rolled out large dementia-friendly clocks over the past year along with FIND’S signage, orientation boards, LED lighting and murals in the bays at St Helier’s A&E department.
  • Russell’s Hall Hospital, forget-me-not unit, have been working with FIND to create a dementia-friendly environment for patients.  A bus stop has been installed, along with feature walls along the corridor.  A memory lane corner with quiet seating has been created near the nurse station, with the dining room being transformed with the use of bespoke murals.  The bays and side rooms have not been forgotten either, with colour coordinated doors, signs and window vinyl’s with LED lighting panels showing the skyline to be installed above the beds in the side rooms.
  • Admiral Nurse, Leanne Storey (Butterfly lead for her Trust) joined NCIC during the Covid pandemic but has been quick to make enhancements to the Trust by starting the roll out of FIND’S signage on several wards.  She has also focused on the A&E departments at both acute sites, with the installation of signage, orientation boards, murals, and LED lighting.
  • And last but no way least Shrewsbury Acute Hospital are installing 200 interchangeable toilet & toilet/shower signs throughout the facility to aid wayfinding. Having already installed signage on some elderly wards, dementia lead Karen Breese has been working with FIND and Estates to ensure all patients and visitors benefits from the same signage – which is proven to reduce incontinence, agitation, and falls.  Shrewsbury Hospital has also installed FIND’S bus stop murals on some wards, providing the perfect place to sit when looking for someone or somewhere, giving staff the opportunity to chat and identify their needs.

The improvements above demonstrate the push for dementia friendly environments.

Small changes can have a big effect

Below are just a few ways that healthcare facilities can better support the growing patient population with dementia.

  • Wayfinding can be aided by proper colour contrast, especially between floors and walls. The use of bright, bold, and vivid colours has been shown to improve short-term memory and improve the cognitive ability of wayfinding; the colours red, orange, and yellow are all stimulating choices.
  • Orientation “lifelines” such as enhanced signage, large face clocks, calendars, access to outside spaces, seasonal artwork and murals can all help orient patients with a sense of place.

In summary, embracing dementia friendly signage and wayfinding aids promotes safety, reduces agitation, encourages independence and greater ease of activity, softens the “institutional hospital” vibe, and makes for an all-around more accessible building.

The best part of all? Improving signage and wayfinding provides immediate results without major disruption to your facility.

To find out more contact our dementia specialist Karen here.