Making Cities and Homes Better For People With Dementia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADementia Challenge – why we should adapt environments for people with dementia.

As scientists eagerly report various breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research, the reality is that a real dementia cure is still most likely decades away. So I was glad to read about the work of the Dementia Challenge, which aims to bring comprehensive dementia support to 20 cities, towns and villages across the UK by 2015.

While a dementia cure would be fantastic news, it isn’t realistic to plan with that unlikely eventuality in mind, and no cure will abolish all of the memory and orientation problems which are a routine part of ageing for most people. Instead, it’s time to cater to our ageing population by including them fully within the community. A new approach to residential dementia care, showcased in Louis Theroux’s Extreme Love documentary, sees carers ‘playing along’ with memory lapses or difficulties of orientation – for instance, asking a man who thinks he’s still a dentist to examine their teeth, or letting a retired housewife help out with the dusting – with great results.

The Dementia Challenge will help dementia sufferers through many simple measures, including dedicated quiet areas in shops, free lockable covers to power sockets, volunteers orienting sufferers at railway stations, and clear street signs. These are fantastic small steps that can make a real difference by freeing people up to independence in their own homes and towns.

All of WaveLength’s beneficiaries are in some degree restricted to their houses, and in many cases this is because of a mental condition such as dementia which makes it simply too stressful for them to enter an unfamiliar environment. In fact, dementia sufferers represent our fastest-growing area of need. A more welcoming local neighbourhood could make an enormous difference to their lives.

During the TV switchover, WaveLength got a lot of calls from people living with dementia, who found their new flatscreen digital TVs impossible to use. If you live most of your time in a past decade, it’s hard to remember anew each day how to work a remote control. On the other hand, the great One Touch radios make things a lot easier for dementia sufferers, with a single, obvious ‘On/Off’ button. I’m concerned at the step away from intuitiveness and simplicity in TVs and radios, and concerned by the fact that the needs of this rapidly-growing segment of the population are rarely mentioned in terms of ease as use. At this stage, my hope is that by the time a digital radio switchover is necessary, the need to adapt technology and services to the needs of dementia sufferers will be recognised.

The Dementia Challenge seems to be pushing innovative and appropriate solutions to the need to enable a full, varied and enjoyable life for dementia patients. At Wavelength, we can only celebrate anything that helps people live their lives out of the house.