Dementia Care and Washroom Design

How can washrooms help support independence for those living with Dementia? Chrissie Rowlinson, marketing manager from Dudley Industries shows how washroom design and dispenser choice can help make washrooms a less confusing space.

Alzheimer’s Research UK reports that over 944,000 Britons currently live with dementia and, by 2030, the number will exceed a million. For those responsible for washroom design in the care sector, this rising trend presents important challenges.

Such washrooms will typically see a variety of users, so they must accommodate different demands. They must satisfy all the usual conditions – safety, accessibility and ease of maintenance, for example – but as the population ages, it’s increasingly important that they meet the needs of users living with dementia and similar cognitive impairments.

Designing for Usability
The various steps involved in wetting hands, applying soap, rinsing and drying all demand thought, observation, orientation and the ability to recall in which order tasks should be performed. For people with dementia, this may be especially difficult in an unfamiliar environment.

The challenge may be further complicated by the fact that people with dementia often struggle to distinguish similar colours. A typical washroom, featuring pale-coloured dispensers on pale-coloured walls, does little to help them.

However, good design can remove key barriers to usability. The Alzheimer’s Society reports that using sharply contrasting colours is helpful. Intelligent use of colour and signage can eliminate much of the visual ‘noise’ that users can find so disorientating and, in a washroom, colour can draw attention to key items such as soap- and towel-dispensers.

Washroom dispensers are available with high-contrast coloured wall-plates. The equipment then visually stands out from the surrounding wall, cutting through most distractions to guide users in the right direction. This can be particularly helpful when items are situated close together (e.g. a soap-dispenser above a basin, beside a towel-dispenser). This saves the user from having to walk or queue at any stage in the washing process, so there is less chance that he/she will lose track of what should happen next.

Colour Choice
To reduce the risks of distress, designers can also consider the pacifying effects of certain colours. Blue is often regarded as a particularly restful choice, so white dispensers set against blue wall-plates are a good option. They offer high contrast while promoting calm.

Designing in this way also permits a kind of “guidance through colour-coding.” The same colour can be used for all functional items, such as toilet roll housings, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers and so on. Provided that each is presented in a logical order, colour-coding can then lead the user on a simple journey through the facilities.

The same journey can also be aided by colour-coding in accompanying signage or posters that explain, with visual examples, how to use the facilities provided. It can also be enhanced with colour-coding on the floor; for example, by using coloured tiles or strips to indicate a logical path through the washroom, from basin to dryer to exit.

Such cues help users to build visual associations and to develop a sense of familiarity, both of which can reduce the risks of anxiety and promote more regular and effective hand-washing.

Lighting and Safety
Many older people suffer from restricted vision so adequate lighting is essential, particularly if colour-coding is a feature of the room’s design. Moreover, lighting should cast no strong shadows across floors and walls, since they may be mistaken for obstacles and interrupt users’ progress through the room.

Finally, people living with dementia may be more easily startled by sudden noises so paper towel dispensers offer a safer, quieter choice than hand-dryers. They may also be better suited to residential premises where it’s important to minimise disturbance at night.

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