Dementia Centred

Lynsey Hutchinson's picture

By Lynsey Hutchinson

September 13th, 2016

Interior design – Necessity or luxury?

Interior design is often thought of as a luxury.

For many people, the term ‘Interior Design’ conjures images of high end designers producing opulent interiors for the private homes of wealthy individuals, or perhaps as part of expensive branding for luxury hotels. Glossy publications show beautiful interiors which are out of reach for most of us. The products and finishes which are highlighted in each month’s publication are predominantly aesthetically lead. Most of these glossy magazines are aimed at the domestic sector, where interior design is seen as desirable but not as necessary. However there is growing evidence that well-designed interiors can genuinely enhance the lives of ordinary people.

Making sense of our environment is paramount to health and quality of life. For people with cognitive impairments such as dementia, impaired memory and a reduced ability to reason contribute to confusion, anxiety and a reduced quality of life. Well considered interior design can help reduce this anxiety by providing cues to help people make sense of their surroundings. Research from the residential care industry, for example, shows clear evidence that good design is particularly beneficial to the wellbeing of people with dementia and visual impairment. 

Accordingly, where interior design was previously little more than a poorly budgeted afterthought, it has grown to become a key consideration in the design of health and care environments; especially interiors intended for people with dementia.  An appreciation for the enabling and health-promoting qualities of good design is now filtering into wider society, where dementia design principles are being considered across a wide range of public environments, such as theatres, libraries, and supermarkets.  Moving forwards, the aim for interior designers must now be to create public interior spaces which are truly accessible for not only those with dementia and impaired vision but for those with other forms of cognitive and neurological impairments. 

Design interventions are now being considered as treatment for conditions such as dementia and, increasingly, as the initial line of treatment before pharmaceutical medications are prescribed. Recently designed hospital wards which have incorporated DSDC dementia design principles have reported decreases in falls, staff turnover and use of staff call buttons. There has also been a notable reduction in the use of anti-psychotics and need for sedation. 

Many care homes and acute care facilities currently dedicate little more than single small area as a dementia-specific ward or wing. This is despite the fact that a high percentage of care home residents have dementia when they first move in, and many more develop dementia over time. Accordingly a majority of residents in UK care homes are cognitively impaired; in some cases this is over 90 percent.  With these numbers in mind, many care organisations are now moving towards designing buildings as a whole, and are applying dementia design principles throughout.

High quality dementia-enabling design can be achieved through simple design decisions and basic moves making it possible for people with dementia to live more independently allowing a fuller, more enjoyable life. If all spaces in care homes are dementia friendly, we not only improve the lives of the majority of residents but we also reduce the additional stress confusion and anxiety caused by current practices of moving residents from one area to another as their condition eventually deteriorates. 

This principle for total inclusivity is the new necessity and way forward in making every part of every new building accessible to all. Luxury may still have its place in society but good design is becoming accessible to all.

Designing Interiors for People with Dementia

This design guidance is aimed at everyone concerned with the care of people with dementia. It is intended to assist commissioners, providers, operators, managers and staff of care homes as well as NHS facilities. It has also been written to help people with dementia living at home, as well as their carers, relatives and friends.


DSDC’s Design Schools include information on how to wayfind, good signage design and tips for reducing visual clutter. Join us at one of our design schools to learn more. 



DSDC’s Introduction to Dementia Design provides an introduction to design of continued care and hospital environments for people with dementia. Learn how simple, low cost changes to the environment can make a real difference in reducing agitation and distress.


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