When it comes to designing dementia-friendly aged care facilities, it’s important to consider extending the care environment beyond the doors of the building.
There is evidence to suggest that being outside is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing. And of even greater significance for people with dementia, research has shown that being in a garden environment can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, agitation, panic, aggression and confusion.
So, it’s of little wonder that incorporating a multi-purpose space in an aged care facility can deliver great benefit to its residents.
Let’s look at the key elements involved in designing an aged care outdoor space to specifically meet the needs of residents with dementia.
First and foremost, any outside space should be easy for all residents - regardless of their mobility - to encourage regular movement between indoor and outdoor areas.
Paths should be wide enough to fit two people walking side by side with mobility aids, with ramps (including handrails) used in place of steps. Loop your path network with no dead-ends to help with navigation.
To maximise safety, there should be a noticeable contrast between paths and surrounding ground or garden beds. Offer plenty of seating areas to allow residents to rest along the way, and include arm rests to assist with rising.
Your outdoor area needs to be well-laid out to ensure residents can navigate their way around the space independently and feel comfortable and secure. Signage should include graphics as well as large lettering to help explain either direction or areas of the garden. It’s also important that the entry and exit is clearly marked to ensure people don’t feel closed-in.
A garden boasting a range of plants with varied colour, texture and fragrance can enhance a resident’s experience in an outdoor space. Include plants that reflect the change of seasons, grasses and trees that rustle or crunch, and fragrant shrubs or flowers for a ‘pick and sniff’ area.
Incorporate man-made items such as sculptures or water features to further stimulate the senses, or add a bird feeder or possum box to attract animal visitors.
Adding familiar plants, and items from eras past is a great way to help trigger residents’ memories. Select plants such as tea roses and flowering shrubs such as camellias and azaleas. This will help residents who previously enjoyed gardening to remember these experiences and share their memories with others.
Everyday familiar items that residents can interact with like a bus stop bench or sign, vintage car or old kettle, will also help evoke life experiences and offer residents a sense of purpose and ownership.
While providing an outdoor environment that can be enjoyed passively is a great asset, extending the environment to include meaningful activities for residents will ensure maximum benefit is achieved. By offering a range of outdoor-based activities, residents will feel more comfortable and at home in your outdoor space.
If space allows, include an undercover multi-purpose activity area - or even two. These are a great asset to an aged care facility and can be used for a range of diversional and art therapy activities, as well as providing a space for family visits or group dining.
Are you considering a refurbishment of your aged care facility? Contact the Premis team today to discuss your project.