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How planning can help people with dementia live independently for longer

Independent living for people with dementia

Planners can learn from the principles of dementia-friendly communities in order to create good places for a vulnerable segment of the population, says Philly Hare

Dementia-friendly communities (DFCs) are embedded in dementia policy in the UK, but they are less obvious in general housing and planning policy. 

The development of such communities in York and Bradford has helped us to understand what may make for successful living places for people with dementia.

DFCs have highlighted both barriers and enablers, showing how practical issues such as transport, way-finding, safety, fitness and carers’ needs can all restrict daily life for dementia sufferers.
They may struggle to drive or use public transport, understand signs and timetables or negotiate complex street patterns and buildings. 

They may be sensitive to traffic noise and crowds. Support groups providing activities and services report difficulties getting people to venues.

“All new developments need to have inclusion among the main aims”

There have been achievements. York taxi company Fleetways is providing dementia awareness training for its drivers. British Transport Police have raised dementia awareness at stations and among providers on the East Coast Main Line. Such measures can rebuild travel confidence.

Making places safer could be as easy as providing space in retail outlets for people with dementia to sit while their carer shops. This kind of carer support is an integral part of what makes a DFC.

Such a community starts with the home and spreads into the wider environment. The Stirling Dementia Service Development Centre has tested a variety of effective approaches to housing design, which can be as simple as better lighting and glass-fronted cupboards.

But a housing-only approach is little help to people trying to live independently. Building a DFC requires strategic planning crossing departmental and sector boundaries. For example, both Bradford and York have highlighted the importance of health, social care and other partners working together.

Creating DFCs in these two cities has enabled many ideas and approaches to be tested in the complexities of the real world. Many have worked; some have struggled. One thing is clear: all developments need to have inclusion as a key aim. Dementia-friendly design is good for everyone and not costly or even obvious if built in from the start. 

There’s no strict template; each community must develop an approach based on its own cultural, geographical, spiritual and human assets. But the four cornerstones of people, places, networks and resources offer a helpful framework.

Philly Hare is a director of Innovations in Dementia, a community interest company, and an exchange fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She co-authored the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report How can we make our cities dementia-friendly?

Read the RTPI's practice note on planning for people living with dementia

Photo | iStock


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