Researchers launch Ireland’s first dementia-friendly hospital guidelines from a Universal Design approach

02 Jul 2018 | Network Updates | Update from Trinity College Dublin
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

The guidelines should help physical hospital environments provide a better experience for people with dementia, as well as their families and caregivers

Researchers from TrinityHaus, a research centre within Trinity College Dublin’s School of Engineering, working in partnership with the School of Medicine, have just launched a set of Dementia Friendly Hospital Guidelines. The guidelines, which follow a Universal Design approach and represent the first of their kind in Ireland, are the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year collaborative project.

The Dementia Friendly Hospital Guidelines from a Universal Design Approach provide detailed guidance in relation to dementia-specific design issues and the Universal Design of acute hospitals in Ireland. For many patients, the hospital is challenging due to the busy, unfamiliar, and stressful nature of the environment. For those with dementia the experience can be exacerbated by cognitive impairment and behavioural or psychological symptoms, which can make visits frightening, distressing, and disorientating.

In response to these issues the research, funded by the Health Research Board (HRB) and Atlantic Philanthropies, investigated dementia-friendly design for acute care public hospitals. It examined how the physical hospital environment might provide a better experience for people with dementia, and how hospitals can be Universally Designed to enable family members and carers to provide support for the person with dementia throughout their visit.

This research underpins these guidelines to provide detailed guidance in relation to dementia-specific design issues and the Universal Design of hospitals. This guidance will raise awareness about designing for dementia and highlight the benefits of adopting a Universal Design approach to ensure that hospitals support all people regardless of age, size, ability or disability. In this context, these design guidelines can be used for the design of new build, extensions, and the retrofit of existing hospitals to ensure that:

  • Hospitals are supportive, therapeutic and healing spaces for all people
  • Hospitals support families, visitors and staff as well as the person with dementia
  • Cost-effective practical solutions promote independence and address safety concerns
  • The well-being of the person with dementia and their families will be enhanced

Principal Investigator of the research project, Professor in Medical Gerontology, Desmond O’Neill, said: “One of the most significant societal advances in recent decades has been a stronger sense of our shared humanity and intertwined narratives with those among us living with dementia. Rather than being othered into a two-dimensional and grim label from which our collective gaze was averted, particularly in terms of the design and function of our hospitals, we now are beginning to appreciate that including the world view and perspectives of those of us living with dementia is imperative for the future design of all health care facilities.”

General Manager, National Dementia Office, Mary Manning, said: “By adopting a Universal Design approach to the development of these guidelines, the authors highlight that designing and developing our acute hospital environments to support a person with dementia will ensure that they are supportive of people with a range of disabilities or functional impairments. This approach helps to reduce the excess disability the built environment can create for many people, and reminds us that small changes can greatly improve how we all navigate and interact with our environment.”

Chairperson, National Disability Authority, Helen Guinan, said: “If new hospitals or alterations to existing hospitals are built in line with a Universal Design Dementia Friendly approach, they will reduce environmental stress, provide supports, and contribute to more healthful and therapeutic outcomes.”

Chief Architectural Advisor at HBS Estates, Ireland’s Health Services (HSE), Paul de Freine, added: “From the perspective of the Estates function in the HSE, this guidance has significant potential to improve our design response to these needs, thereby helping to ensure that the hospital environments we create into the future do not give rise to added difficulties but provide instead significant support to all who use them, including people with dementia.” 

About the research team and project partners

The research and guidelines were completed by TrinityHaus, a research centre in Trinity College Dublin’s School of Engineering, working in partnership with Trinity’s School of Medicine, and Tallaght Hospital, and in collaboration with: Centre for Excellence in Universal Design at the National Disability Authority; Health Services Executive Estates; Alzheimer’s Society of Ireland; Irish Dementia Working Group; O’Connell Mahon Architects; National Dementia Office; Dementia Services Information and Development Centre; St. James's Hospital; Mercy University Hospital Cork; Connolly Hospital Dublin.

About TrinityHaus

TrinityHaus was formed in 2008 to provide innovative solutions for buildings, neighbourhoods and cities. Over the last 10 years the main research effort has focussed on two principal themes: people-centred design on homes, health care settings, and neighbourhoods for all ages, sizes and abilities; and energy efficient buildings and eco-districts.  Previously, TrinityHaus researchers were involved in the development of Dementia Friendly Dwellings from a Universal Design Approach. Most recently, TrinityHaus researchers, alongside Newton Sanders and Sonas apc, were awarded a medal at this year’s Bloom Festival for their dementia friendly garden “Moments in Time”, which was sponsored by the Understand Together Campaign and National Dementia Office.

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