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Universal Design and the acute hospital

In this article, we explore how universal Design can support different stages throughout our life cycles
Universal Design and design for dementia at the intersection of stress reduction, support, and health

Considering the physical, sensory and cognitive impairments associated with dementia, and the diverse needs of accompanying persons, visitors and staff, it is important to adopt a Universal Design approach to provide a supportive hospital environment for all users. In Ireland, the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design at the National Disability Authority refers to Universal Design as:

“The design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of age, size, ability or disability”.

We all have evolving needs based on different stages in our life cycles including varied health circumstances or age-related changes. A Universally Designed environment can adapt and change with us by factoring in at the outset key design features that enhance quality of life for everyone. Furthermore, Universal Design promotes a higher and more inclusive baseline from which specialised care, and personalisation or adaptation for specific needs can take place.

In the context of Universal Design, the stress placed on many people living with dementia by the built environment can be addressed. The hospital environment can also provide a prosthetic or enabling environment in relation to disabilities or functional impairments, particularly for patients who may be at their most vulnerable due to illness while in hospital. It is vital to also go beyond these and start considering how the built environment can be designed to play a more active and positive role in providing supportive, healthful, and therapeutic places and spaces for people living with dementia, their families and carers.

In this regard, and in the context of new-build or the retrofit of hospitals, Universally Designed Dementia Friendly Hospitals:

  • Are accessible, understandable, and easy to use for all occupants;
  • Recognise the cognitive, behavioural and psychological, physical, and sensory difficulties that a person living with dementia may experience as a patient or visitor to the hospital;
  • Reduce hospital related environmental stress; Provide a prosthetic or enabling environment to account for dementia-related disability;
  • Create a healthful and therapeutic setting to promote healing; and
  • Recognise that dementia friendly design from a Universal Design approach, not only supports people living with dementia, but also supports accompanying persons, visitors and staff in their caring role.
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Dementia Inclusive Hospitals from a Universal Design Approach

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