Here be dragons

Mapping research and identifying gaps in the evidence base for design which supports and enables people with dementia to live as well as they are able to.

The sun is shining and the skies are blue over the University of Stirling this morning. The conference room of the Iris Murdoch Building is filled with people and there is a hum of anticipation. This is the start of a two-day International Masterclass in Dementia Care, Design and Ageing, a regular highlight in the calendar of the University’s Dementia Services Development Centre (‘DSDC’). Attendees represent different countries and cultures, professional and academic backgrounds, but we are united in our commitment to using research to inform the design of environments which support people to ‘live as well as they are able to’. This is the phrase favoured by Wendy Mitchell, who has just given an inspirational presentation. Wendy is, amongst many other things, the best-selling author of Somebody I Used to Know, a book which recounts her own experience of living with dementia.

From its inception more than 25 years ago, DSDC has sought to champion the importance of good design in supporting and enabling people ‘living with dementia’, i.e. both those with diagnoses and those who care for and support them, to live as well as they are able to and to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as any other citizen. DSDC’s reputation as an international centre of excellence is well deserved, having led the development and dissemination of good practice in the area of enabling living environments, for example through its Design Audit Tools, online 2D ‘virtual care home’ resources, good practice guides, and latterly the IRIDIS mobile phone app. As a consequence, others look to the Centre to both innovate and inform. This is a great privilege but also a heavy responsibility.

The World Health Organisation estimates that globally there are around 50 million people living with dementia. There is therefore an urgent need to understand how to design and create environments which support people with dementia to live the best life that they are able to and which enable everybody to participate in and contribute to their communities. Our work is helping to make this happen.

We have systematically examined research which aims to identify those aspects of environmental design that can support, enable, or contribute to the wellbeing of people living with dementia. Our approach to identifying, evaluating and understanding the academic literature provides a map, a starting point from which to explore the research landscape. In the past, map-makers would use information gathered from a variety of sources to chart different geographies, often labelling areas yet to be explored with the phrase ‘Here be dragons’. Our systematically conducted and comprehensive review follows a similar process, describing both well-explored areas where the evidence base for design measures is strong and gaps in the evidence base, where knowledge is limited or non-existent. In sharing our findings, our review can help policy makers to develop policies which are informed by the best available evidence, service providers and research funders to allocate resources in ways which achieve the highest impact, and researchers to direct research effort to where it is most needed.

Alison Dawson is co-author, with Alison Bowes (also at the University of Stirling) of Designing Environments for People with Dementia. This is an entirely Open Access title and can be found on our Insight platform

Article Details

Alison Dawson ,
Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Stirling, UK

Date Published:

May 16th, 2019

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