Dementia has been described as the scourge of our age and it seems clear part of the reason for this is the longer years we are now living. Another reason is, we now take mental health more seriously and take the time and care to identify the various forms of mental health. Dementia includes alzheimers, but not all dementia sufferers have alzheimers and even two people with the disease may experience different symptoms. On one thing they will all agree, that it can cause a terrible feeling of being cut off. Being misunderstood is one of the darkest emotions the human heart can go through.
Which is why the safety of home can ease that painful process. Science is constantly working to relieve and assist those living with the disease, but little thought has been given to the part home and home providers can play in supporting those with dementia. This is not about care or nursing homes, this is about building dementia friendly houses for sufferers to live in safely.
This has been addressed by a 56 page housing charter which covers a wide range of issues about housing those with dementia. Whilst it’s not possible to cover everything in the charter we cover a few highlights here. Firstly it has been endorsed by a number of recognised institutions including: Dementia Friendly Communities; Housing Learning and Improvement Network; Association for Dementia Studies; Care and Repair England; Royal Town Planning Institute; Life Story Network.
The charter opens with these words and then asks of the suffers of dementia some questions.
‘People with dementia face a range of challenges. These may include memory loss, or difficulty communicating, mobility and navigational issues and other associated problems. Across every part of the housing sector organisations can make a valuable contribution to supporting people with dementia facing these challenges.’
Put to those who support people with or who themselves suffer with dementia:
- What would you like to see in the housing charter?
- What actions would you like the housing sector to take?
- What difficulties do you have in relation to housing? What difficulties do you worry you might have in the future?
A number of issues were discussed:
- location – the importance of familiarity
- design – colour and layout
- technology – alarms, sensor and lights
- accessibility – the importance of local amenities
- signage – clarity and appropriateness
- dementia awareness training for housing staff and planners
- opportunities for social interaction
- adaptability as needs change
- loneliness and isolation
The document then gets into the meat of it’s purpose and presents it’s case in an engaging informative way firstly offering suitable titles like ‘the difference that suitable housing can make.’
It quotes facts and figures; breakdown of target audiences, to help support their arguments. The document cites examples of other organisations like Hyndburn Homewise; Waltham Forest Housing Association; The Guiness Partnership; Lifetime homes; Selwood Housing; Brookside Retirement Village; Pozzoni Architects; Midland Heart; Life Story Network; Dementia Voices; who have all adopted and taken action on dementia issues. This is helpful for newcomers to the problems dementia poses
At the end it provides a list of useful resources including useful organisations. Page 53 has a list of detailed answers and feedback to the 3 questions they asked at the beginning. The answers show a keen understanding of the challenges sufferers of dementia face.
Specialist retirement housing is not new in England. Provision has been made by specialist housing providers for decades and much has already been done to address the needs of the retirement market. Issues of sight, hearing, reduced mobility and social isolation are not new problems and much has already been achieved. If dementia has added further and unique needs, the building sector is flexible enough for these challenges.
In terms of property management and working with property developers where housing is being built specifically for older buyers, whose potential need for dementia support is more likely, the desire for all of us to be a compassionate society can go hand in hand with a good marketing plan to show dementia sufferers that provision and care has been made for them.