“The environment, especially the built environment, can have a significant effect on a person with dementia. It can support them or hasten their deterioration.” – Mike O’Sullivan, Neuroscience Researcher, King’s College, London
By Nicole Moore, learning and development coordinator
Various researchers have noted the importance of the built environment as a resource to promote the wellbeing of individuals living with dementia. Environments can support people with dementia by providing opportunities for them to express their independence, to engage socially and to thrive. Sadly, environments can also hasten cognitive decline, hinder social connections and serve to isolate persons with dementia from their community.
United ensures those with dementia are included
Unlike other older adult communities that segregate residents based on their cognitive or physical abilities, United chooses not to do this. Residents with dementia live on the same floors as everyone else; they eat in the same spaces and attend the same programs. This is done intentionally so that everyone has the same opportunities to engage in all aspects of our community.
Watch our video here on maintaining the health of the mind.
We all have relationships with our environments, engaging with space, people and objects on a daily basis. This is no different for individuals with dementia, who retain the same needs for their environment to be comfortable, familiar and a place they feel like they belong.
“When we put up artwork around the building, residents will stop in the halls and give their opinion about the art,” said Sage Wheeler, studio facilitator, United Active Living. “It’s a little thing, but we change what we put up based on that feedback. Putting up art becomes a way to connect to each other rather than simply decorate a living space. Having beautiful art is pleasurable, but having somebody to talk to about it is more joyful and exciting. In that same way, everything we do is focused on connecting and including everyone in the community.”
Researchers have found that segregated communities with a dedicated floor or ward for people with dementia often prioritize nutrition, security and physical care over people’s social, emotional and environmental needs. This can lead to monotony of routines organized for the convenience of staff, stark and clinical environments and limited opportunities to engage socially or partake in meaningful activities. As a result, there is a stigma associated with those living in dementia units that serves to further isolate them from the community.
Creating familiarity and establishing a home-like environment is a vital form of environmental support for people with dementia. Our residents’ suites are their homes, and the language of ‘home’ is very different from the language of ‘healthcare’. In her book, Designing for Alzheimer’s Disease: Strategies for Creating Better Care Environments, researcher Betsy Brawley describes the difference.
“We can never hope to achieve home-like environments as long as we continue to refer to corridors, rather than halls or hallways, as long as we build activity rooms, rather than a music room, library, laundry room, or bedrooms. Different parts of the country and different cultures may designate household rooms differently, but almost no one grew up with a day room or nurse’s station as part of their traditional home environment.”
With this research in mind, United communities have open-floor plans with accessible outdoor spaces, inviting furnishings, and a purposeful minimization of clinical elements. We believe that creating environments that support and value people living with dementia helps them reach their full potential and avoids causing needless disability.
Why are we inclusive?
We are inclusive because it’s the right thing to do. Research has identified many benefits of being part of an inclusive community. When people are provided opportunities to navigate larger spaces, socialize with whomever they choose and express their individuality they’re happier and their quality of life improves. If a resident has or develops an impairment or disability, they will not be turned away. They are and always will be, an important part of our community.
Our residents with dementia have many valuable gifts to offer. For example, residents with dementia have a unique ability to tap into their creative side without inhibitions. This allows them to see the world in a different way and express themselves more easily, which some of us struggle with. This freedom of expression serves as a great role model for everyone in our community.
Being inclusive means being open and welcoming to everyone and it can improve the lives of everyone who lives, works or visits our community. We believe that diversity makes our communities stronger and more vibrant.
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