Designing libraries for dementia is only part of creating a dementia friendly atmosphere. We were in Ohio recently to talk with a library group about making their libraries dementia friendly. Much of our presentation was about communication and appropriate material. The physical plant is important as well.
Libraries can be the center of a communities dementia friendly initiative. The Dementia Friendly Movement as we know it originated in the UK. Many of the ideas and resources are from there.
Designing a library that is usable for a population with dementia is not just providing appropriate material for that special population. Here is a 2015 blog post from Designing Libraries, a UK resource “for everyone interested in design and innovation in libraries.” Obviously.
Wakefield’s dementia-friendly library
FG Library has completed the refurbishment of Sandal Library in Wakefield, West Yorks, believed to be the first fully dementia-friendly library in the UK.
This very special project was designed in partnership with The Alzheimer’s Society. In practical terms it means that the library includes a number of features that will help people who are living with dementia.
A colour scheme which is deep red making it warm, friendly and calming; furniture such as chairs and sofas which have a plain design and are easy to get in and out of; a reduction of reflective surfaces; grey skirting boards and door frames making it easier for people to recognise them against the magnolia coloured walls; as well as signage and guiding to help people recognise symbols and words.
With the “Latitude” shelving range used throughout the facility, including special 36mm thick end panels, FG has also made use of bespoke timber surrounds to perfectly frame each area.
The centrepiece of the new facility is the lounge which is situated in the old entrance. It has been refurbished to create a reminiscence room, with sofas and a flat screen TV which will play a slideshow of digitised images from the local history collection. This will help to stimulate dementia patients’ long term memory. The library will also hold regular reminiscence sessions, which will be advertised locally.
Dementia Effects Perception
Notice that design features go beyond creating a warm and friendly environment. Dementia causes problems that make color (or in this case “colour”) and contrast even more important than it generally is in interior design. Walls need to contrast with floors, or the wall might be seen as a continuation of the floor. The library in Wakefield added a contrasting “skirting boards” to help differentiate wall from floor. (In the U.S., skirting board is better known as “baseboard”.) Color and contrast are even more important considerations when designing libraries for dementia.
Entries and exits should be clearly defined. Decorators chose the color scheme of Sandal Library so that doorways are visually different than the wall. Signage is easily recognized and legible.
Contrast needs to go beyond flooring and paint colors. A piece of furniture should stand out from its surroundings or it may not be seen. And it should look like furniture. A chair should look like a chair. But avoid patterned fabrics. These can be stressful. Additionally, decorators at Sandal chose chairs that are easy to “get in and out of”; people with dementia can have physical difficulties beyond those that are age-related.
Restroom decor, too, should offer contrast. For example, a white toilet or sink in a white-tiled room might be missed, or at least difficult to find.
Beware that Hole in the Floor
But contrast is not always desirable. The floor, whether it is carpet or tile, can be a pleasing color, but should not have much pattern. Fig. 1 shows a rug that makes the point. It will be a threatening thing to be avoided at all cost. Now this rug certainly isn’t something I would expect to see on the floor of any library. I use it for illustration purposes. Tile and a very low-pile commercial carpet is the rule. On the other hand, a checkerboard pattern on a tile floor is very common, and can have the same effect on someone with compromised perceptual acuity.
Now look at Fig. 2. It shows a beautiful carpet, with a low pile. But can you imagine what dementia-affected perception might make of those figures? The “blocks” on the floor might look dangerous to anyone in the right circumstance, like poor lighting. Certainly one whose visual cortex has been compromised would see them as unsafe. Trying to avoid them creates a falling hazard. Incidentally, this carpet is in the Documenta Archive, a research library in Germany.
Safety is Essential when Designing Libraries for Dementia
Eliminate potential tripping hazards.
Use clear signs to indicate important areas, exits, etc. Clear symbols and pictures help.
Use natural lighting whenever possible. Otherwise, lighting in general, should be ‘sufficient’. In other words, it should be bright enough and even enough to eliminate shadows, yet not overly bright or glaring. Shadow are like dark spots on the floor. On the other hand, light that is too bright can wash out the contrasts you worked to establish. Minimize reflective surfaces. These can be dissorienting
Read more about Alzheimer’s Safety»
Create a Special Place for this Special Visitor
If at all possible, when designing libraries for dementia, designate a room or an area that is quiet for uninterrupted conversation. Dementia amplifies distraction. Other people milling about, background sounds that others of us routinely tune out, even a quiet conversation at a nearby table can disrupt the attention of someone affected by dementia. Making that room serve another purpose, as did the designers of the Wakefield Library, is a bonus.
Reminiscence therapy is an effective therapy for people with dementia. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, does not affect memory so much as the process of memory. Old memories will stick around long after the ability to make new memories is lost. The pièce de résistance of the Sandal Library is their reminiscence room, a place where people with so-called memory disorders can go to remember their past.
If it is large enough, this room can serve other purposes as well. An art or craft project is an excellent way to tap the creative part of the brain. Creativity is often unaffected, and often is enhanced, by dementia. Read more» about art therapy.
Now, of course, these design and décor improvements can be expensive. Not all libraries will be able to tackle everything at once. Start with safety. Remove actual obstacles and tripping hazards. Then get rid of those hazards that are only perceptual, like shadows and floor coverings that might lend to optical illusions.
A well done library design won’t be recognized as such by the general public. Good design is good design; it will work well for people who have dementia and everyone else as well.
We have created bundles that are filled with activities which are appropriate for people with dementia including Alzheimer’s disease and put them in handy tote bags. The totes pictured here are all based on Alternative Therapy, which are non-pharmacological therapies we know to improve the lives of people with dementia. Some of the included activities will even work to temporarily improve memory and cognition.
Although we had libraries in mind when we put these assortments together they will work well in any care situation.
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WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
- I just received a parcel of games, books and puzzles I ordered from you online. It only took a few days to get here which is pretty amazing. I think I wait longer than that for things to be delivered within my own country! But I digress, I wanted to say thank you very much. My mother is now going through the box, I’ve not seen her so animated in a while. She’s in the later stages of Alzheimer’s/Dementia and spends a lot of her time just sitting around not doing much and I’ve found it extremely difficult to find things that are suitable to keep her occupied and engaged. So much of what she used to be able to do and enjoy is now beyond her and although she tries, it just creates frustration for her. This cache of goodies looks like it’s going to be the solution, thank you Joanna Carter