Designing hospital environments for people with dementia

Our first workshop was a huge success with 45 participants, mainly from NHS trusts across England, attending to benefit from the principles of the EHE programme and learn how to apply them to their own dementia care environment transformations.

The workshop combined elements of development programmes that EHE teams had attended in the past, along with some new exercises designed to reveal the world through the eyes of the patients they care for. Following this, participants were able to apply their observations to hands-on exercises and begin to look at the key considerations around designing a dementia care space.

Participants rated the workshop very highly and left feeling inspired and energised, ready to tackle the environments back at their own organisations.

What did participants think of the workshop?

Lucy Frost, the Dementia Champion at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, wrote to us with the following:

'I was very fortunate to be supported by my trust to attend the two-day workshop, which looked at the work of the Enhancing the Healing Environment programme, and explored ways to develop and design environments that are supportive for people with dementia.

'The course delivered some very powerful messages about how we need to be prepared to 'think outside the box' when we are looking at designing dementia-friendly environments. Considering what a person with dementia sees was a very strong theme and one which I have taken back with me to our hospital.

'Cost and resources are something that we all have to think carefully about, and throughout the two days we looked at changes that don't cost a lot of money and can be done on very small budgets. I felt this gave me a very realistic chance of planning some changes in our hospital that could make a very real difference.

'The programme was interactive and presented opportunities to link up with other professionals who are engaged in planning change and implementing it. This generated some really meaningful interaction with like-minded colleagues, which was truly inspiring.

'I am now hoping to use the messages and learning from this excellent event to adopt the principles of the EHE programme and start to make changes to our ward areas to make sure we meet our goal of becoming a dementia friendly trust. There is a lot of work to do, but this course was by far the best place to start!'

Three key messages

Lucy shares the three key messages she took back to her trust:

1. How we see and perceive our environment

People with dementia don't see things in the same way as a person without dementia. Environments can be unclear and much harder to identify. Therefore we need to think about our ward environments and what we can do to enhance them to support people with dementia.

Lots of these ideas are already in our 3T's (teaching, trauma and tertiary) programme, but there may be things we can change in the immediate future that could improve the hospital environment.

2. Change doesn’t have to be expensive

Some simple changes to signage and colours can be employed to help people with dementia.

Current ward areas can be assessed using the EHE Assessment Tool which is a template to aid thinking about the changes that could be made.

3. An environment that is geared to the needs of the person with dementia generates better outcomes

After improving their hospital environment for people with dementia, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust reported:

  • reduced levels of agitation/physical behaviours
  • increased patient satisfaction
  • reduced complaints
  • increased nurse/patient interaction
  • while data have yet to be formally reviewed, there was probably a reduction in falls. 

In summary

Looking at our environment and how it can be more dementia-friendly will help us to:

  • meet the objectives set out in the Prime Minister's challenge on dementia and the National Dementia Strategy
  • continue to promote the need to achieve person-centred care in our wards
  • deliver better outcomes for people with dementia who are admitted to hospital
  • think about how we can achieve changes in a cost effective way.

Some initial actions we will be taking:

  • development of a dementia unit at our Royal Sussex County Hospital site
  • completion of a dementia care pathway
  • looking at signage and equipment eg, brightly coloured plates, cups, visual signs for toilets and bathrooms
  • environmental assessment using the EHE Assessment Tool
  • feedback to key stakeholders within the trust around planning possible change
  • programme of education/dementia focus sessions in ward areas.

Want to attend the next workshop?

This workshop is being repeated on 5 and 6 September 2012 at Alexandra House near Swindon. Numbers are limited to ensure the quality of some of the group exercises is not compromised, but there are still a few places remaining on the course.

Find out more about the Designing Hospital Environments for People with Dementia workshop or contact Gurinder Whall, EHE Event Co-ordinator, at or on 020 7307 2661