How to Design and Care for People Living with Dementia?
Micène Fontaine, June 3, 2021
During a podcast interview about the impact of the pandemic on older adults, a mental health professional pointed to the built environment as the first line of defense. Specifically, he pointed to multi-generational buildings. I was surprised.
The benefits of multi-generational living are well documented. From economic benefits to environmental to health (especially mental health), but that was pre-pandemic. So why would a mental health professional suggest being deliberate about incorporating older adults communities' into buildings otherwise catrered primarily to the needs of young families? It seemed counter-intuitive, which the interviewer quickly pointed out.
The short answer: Just so the older adults could feel less isolated and reap the benefits of seeing the kids playing outside, parents going about their days (to the extent that it happens these days), etc. "Seeing" was enough to boost the mental health of the older adults strategically living on the first floor of the healthy buildings where most of the activity occurs. Of course, this is where architects and designers come in to be intentional about designing buildings that create these shared experiences (visually if nothing else) in a physically-distant way (no shared entrances and corridors but instead increased visibility across spaces that serve different purposes.) Multi-generational living is not a silver. Add biophilia and the wisdom of nature for additional health and well-being benefits. These are just two ways in which design plays a role in dementia care for a population in crisis.
Once again, as architects and designers, you can leverage the power of design to make life a little better for older adults, including those at risk for mental health issues, including Alzheimer's and dementia at large.
What do you think would help boost good health and well-being, by design?