EQUAL (Extending Quality Life) Programme, Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC)
- Dr Elizabeth Burton (Department of Architecture), Principal Investigator, OISD:WISE
- Lynne Mitchell (Department of Architecture), Post Doctoral Research Assistant, OISD:WISE
- Shibu Raman (Department of Architecture), Postgraduate Research Assistant, OISD:WISE
- total grant value: £182,675
- time duration: 8th February 2000 7th February 2003
The overall aim of the research was to create a more inclusive environment to enhance and extend the active participation of older people, particularly those with dementia, in society. The objectives were:
- To investigate how older people with dementia understand and interact with the outdoor environment
- To identify design factors which influence the ability of older people with dementia to successfully use the outdoor environment
- To offer preliminary guidance for designing dementia-friendly outdoor environment
The number of older people in the UK is steadily rising, particularly in the age group of 85 years and over. As the likelihood of developing dementia increases with age, reaching a one in five change over the age of 80, the number of people with dementia is also growing. The influence of home adaptations on the quality of life of older people with dementia is currently receiving attention, but no previous research had been conducted to explore how the outdoor environment could be better designed for those with dementia. The research was a multi-method investigation using semi-structured conversational interviews, supported by a questionnaire and book of photographs; accompanied walks with participants around their local neighbourhoods, using an observation schedule; and environmental assessments of participants’ local neighbourhoods using a checklist of environmental characteristics.
We found that many older people with dementia still go out alone, often every day, but they tend to limit their trips to walks in the local neighbourhood to accomplish simple tasks, such as going to the corner shop or posting a letter. Having dementia appears to cause many older people to lose the ability to ‘read’ the outdoor environment; they cannot always interpret the cues which signal the use of buildings, the location of entrances or the behaviour that is expected in different places. However, most of our research participants were capable of ‘picturing’ their local environments and routes to different places, and of using signs and environmental features (e.g. landmarks, buildings of personal significance, street furniture, trees) to orientate themselves. Our findings show that there are six major requirements for outdoor environments to be dementia-friendly: they need to be familiar, legible, distinctive, accessible, comfortable and safe. Older people with dementia tend to prefer outdoor environments that have simple street layouts with gently curving streets, T-junctions, wide pavements made of plain, smooth paving, and a variety of architectural styles and features.
From the research findings, we have produced some preliminary guidance (listed below) for dementia-friendly outdoor environments that will help to produce neighbourhoods that are accessible and enjoyable for everyone inclusive environments that are capable of meeting the changing needs of residents and other users, as they grow older.
Burton, E. and Mitchell, L. (forthcoming) Inclusive Urban Design: Streets for Life Architectural Press, Oxford
Mitchell, L., Burton, E. and Raman, S. (2004) Neighbourhoods for life. A checklist of recommendations for designing dementia-friendly outdoor environments OCSD, Oxford and Housing Corporation, London (a PDF copy can be downloaded from the OISD:WISE website: HYPERLINK oisd/sue/wise/index.html oisd/sue/wise/index.html)
Burton, E., Mitchell, L. and Raman, s. (2004) Neighbourhoods for life. A Findings Leaflet on designing dementia-friendly outdoor environments OISD, Oxford
Mitchell, L., Burton, E. and Raman, S. (2004) Dementia-friendly cities: designing intelligible neighbourhoods for life, Journal of Urban Design, 9(1), 89 101
Mitchell, L., Burton, E., Raman, S., Blackman, T., Jenks, M. and Williams, K. (2003) Making the outside world dementia-friendly: design issues and considerations, Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 30, 605 - 632
Burton, E. and Mitchell, L. (2003) Urban design for longevity, Urban Design Quarterly, Summer, 87, 32 35
Blackman, T., Mitchell, L., Burton, E., Jenks, M., Parsons, M., Raman, S. and Williams, K. (2003) The accessibility of public spaces for people with dementia: a new priority for the ‘open city’, Disability & Society, 18(3), 357 371
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