An app has been created to make people’s homes more dementia friendly, with advice on how to change the light, furniture, colour contrast and reduce noise.
It takes 20 minutes to assess a two-bedroom house, according to Stirling University’s dementia centre, which developed the app Iridis. Launched on World Alzheimer’s Day, (21 September), people using the app are asked to take photographs of their home and answer questions about it.
Iridis, the dementia database can make recommendations on any adaptations, such as changing lighting and signposting doors, with the aim of improving the quality of life for those with dementia as well as preventing falls and hospital admissions.
Better living environment has 'profound effect' on people
“At the touch of a button, people with dementia, their families and health professionals will be able to assess how dementia friendly their built environment is and how it can be improved”, said Lesley Palmer, chief architect at the university’s Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC).
Designed in conjunction with Space Architects, the free app is used mainly for the family or care workers of people living at home but can also be adapted for hospitals and care homes.
“We already know that improving the living environment can have a profound effect on the health and wellbeing of people living with dementia and latest research from the University of Stirling indicates that enhancing the hospital environment could lead to an increase in positive outcomes for patients.
“Iridis will advise and inform homeowners and health professionals of recommended changes to the built environment and, in turn, improve the health, dignity and independence of our senior population,” added Ms Palmer.
Within the next few months, the university plans to release a similar app specific to the hospital environment.
Unsuitable interiors are flagged
Data collected from users of the app will allow its designers to continually update and improve the technology.
Ms Palmer revealed: “The app has illustrations which demonstrates suitable and unsuitable interiors. There’s also a visual guide there which also allows you to take photographs so that we are able to see some of the environmental conditions and get some nuances about design.
“For example, with flooring, ‘high-stepping’ and falling comes down to the light reflectance or tone of the floor, so if someone has vinyl in their en-suite and carpet in the bedroom, the tonal contrast between them might be too high.
“Consequently, they might have a perceived difference in height levels and you can then get ‘high-stepping’ and tripping. With tonal continuity though, you can reduce the risk of people falling.”
Many of the changes can be easily made
Many of the questions featured in the app relate to ‘soft’ changes that can easily be made to the home of an individual by family, friends or carers.
Ms Palmer said: “For example, we often see that many bathroom walls are painted white, and your standard handrail or grab rail is white. You have no contrast there so if there was an impairment or an aging eyesight which loses colour discrimination with age, they won’t be able to see the rail, and so painting a wall to contrast with the rail could make them easier to find and therefore more accessible.”
Getting the right contrast between tone and colour is pivotal when thinking of dementia-friendly design.
UK's housing stock ‘categorically unsuitable for elderly living’
Stephen Brooks, director of Space Architects, believes there is a problem in the UK with the current dementia design landscape.
He says: “In the UK, a wealth of housing stock is categorically unsuitable for elderly living, we are in an era where people are living longer and we have a duty of care to offer a better quality of life and improved living standards to allow people to remain independent for longer.
“By providing the right living environment we can help people to stay safe, physically active and maintain mental stimulation for longer.”
However, the lack of dementia-friendly design is not just consigned to the UK, and as a result the app is receiving interest from further afield.
Ms Palmer says: “There are around 50 million people living with dementia worldwide and we have already received significant international interest in Iridis, from the likes of Japan, India and China.”
Richard Baker, policy and communications manager at Age Scotland, hopes Iridis will “make a huge difference to older people, particularly those with dementia, and allow them to remain independent and living in their own homes for longer”.
The Idiris app can be found in the Apple Store and Google Play.