DR Focus – designing for dementia

With an ageing population, Dementia is on the rise. DR is committed to working closely with aged care clients to enhance the lived experience of those impacted.

As aged care and retirement living providers look to the future, there’s a need to continually respond, and even anticipate, evolving community expectations and changes to market and regulatory contexts. Providers must offer contemporary environments designed to support residents’ lifestyles in ways that are supported, safe, and comfortable, and that offer community and autonomy, as much as possible. To achieve this, providers need trusted design partners who are invested in their issues, committed to learning and eager to share their evolving knowledge.

‘Dementia presents differently for individuals and across the condition’s trajectory. This means architectural and interior designs must support peoples evolving needs to enhance their quality of life.’
– Magda Myszkowski, DR’s Interior Design Manager

DR learning about dementia

DR has a keen interest in designing for dementia. Our team’s recent learnings include participating in a 2019 dementia virtual reality experience hosted by Churches of Christ and Dementia Australia. In early 2020 we were delighted to meet and work with internationally respected Dementia Village Advisors (DVA) for an aged care master plan review and concept development project. Building on these experiences, our Interior Design Manager, Magda Myszkowski, completed an online course via UTAS in 2020 entitled ‘Understanding Dementia’.  This provided valuable insights into the types of behaviour people with dementia may display. It explored how different living environments can impact people with dementia both positively and negatively.

Our commitment to ongoing learning – combined with close partnerships with our clients, their staff and residents – helps inform and feed into the design processes of our aged care clients’ developments.

Over the past five years, DR has completed a broad range of aged care projects with interior design elements informed by dementia design principles. Below, Magda shares her thoughts on some relevant project images.


Magda: This independent living studio apartment is easily legible, well-suited for someone who may be suffering from early or mild dementia symptoms. Access to good sunlight on a verandah provides opportunities to grow plants, prompting activity and movement. The verandah can be separated easily from the living area with sliding doors. Or it can be opened up for a more spacious feel. Kitchen storage is designed with obvious contrast to draw the eye.

Magda: Many aged care facilities incorporate salons, activity rooms, cinemas, and more. All of these services and activities provide residents with convenient options and choice, supporting autonomous lifestyles and self-care for as long as possible. These spaces are designed to also be potentially used by the broader community, which can help residents to feel more socially connected.

Magda: It’s important to make the most of opportunities to provide residents with a strong sense of connection to the natural surroundings – especially for those that are spending greater amounts of time in their room. This apartment’s floor to ceiling windows welcome light in and provide tranquil river views for its resident. Louvre windows enable the resident to have some control over the room’s natural ventilation, directing breezes.

Magda: Alcoves in an aged care facility’s public areas can offer an alternative environment with abundant natural light; they act as restful set downs, a place to read, enjoy views or people watch. They also provide opportunities for incidental engagement with other residents.

Magda: If someone is suffering from more advanced Dementia symptoms, a greater level of care is required. Some aged care residence rooms require in-built amenity such as hoist lifts and easy access to operating equipment. In this example, the hoist, tracks and storage cupboards are concealed in joinery elements. The woodgrain decors are durable, while providing warmth and visual appeal. Most importantly, this material has been chosen because it makes the aged care amenity less obvious and the bedroom far more homely. The bathroom is directly accessible and clearly visible from the bedroom. Generous hallways enable easy movement and accessibility for wheelchairs or stretchers.

In 2021 there are an estimated 472,000 Australians living with dementia, according to Dementia Australia
– www.dementia.org.au

The number of dementia sufferers is expected to rise to 590,000 by 2028, and 1,076,000 by 2058 if there is no medical breakthrough. Dementia Australia have also estimated, based on analysis of a range of research studies, that in 2021 almost 1.6 million people in Australia are involved in the care of someone living with dementia. In 2012 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in older Australians (aged 65 or older). In 2016, the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling noted that people with dementia account for 52% of all residents in residential aged care facilities.

What is dementia?

There are many disorders that affect the brain. Rather than being one specific disease, Dementia is an umbrella term that describes a collection of symptoms. Suffering from dementia involves the progressive loss of mental and physical function, affecting behaviours and interfering with one’s ability to perform everyday tasks.