Nick Seemann introduces a new DTA online course which aims to inspire learners to rethink the possibilities of physical environments, with a primary focus on care homes
In September 2020, Dementia Training Australia (DTA) launched a new free online course, titled Creating Supportive Environments for People Living with Dementia, which explores why physical environments matter for people living with dementia. The course introduces learners to basic ideas about how the design, configuration and set-up of buildings and gardens can support or curtail the independence, social engagement and daily activity of those who use or live in that building.
While the content is applicable to a range of settings, the course focuses on improving care homes. It is aimed at care staff, management, building and design professionals, and emphasises the application of design theory to practice. The course has been prepared for a broad audience in recognition that environmental changes require the involvement of a multidisciplinary team: management, design professionals and care staff. While management may be gatekeepers to a project, care staff have a fundamental role in the daily activities that realise the changes in practice.
The course is available for individuals to complete for their own professional development. It will also feature in a new mentoring program led by DTA’s Environments consultancy, where DTA will work with a team of people within a facility to audit the existing environment, diagnose problems and then plan change.
To begin, the facility’s multidisciplinary team will complete the online Creating Supportive Environments course together, to create a shared foundation to the project development work that follows. The project work may be an operational change (such as the removal of clutter or greater support to enable residents to access gardens), a small refurbishment (such as the creation of a more usable kitchen) or a larger renovation.
Architect and DTA’s Lead Environments Consultant Nick Seemann
Examples of well-designed environments for people living with dementia. (above left): Peninsula Villages Tearoom refurbishment, Woy Woy; (above middle) a shaded courtyard in an aged care facility; (above right) a corridor refurbishment design developed by Constructive Dialogue Architects
The course format was inspired by Damon Gameau’s documentary 2040, which uses positive examples of environmental initiatives to encourage people to embrace climate solutions that already exist. Similarly, this DTA course is heavily based on interviews with architects and facility managers, who each explain how their care homes support resident independence, comfort and safety. Much of the material has been developed through online video interviews conducted during the pandemic lockdown.
The course has three modules, each requiring about an hour to complete. The first module, Why Environments Matter, explains the negative effects of clutter, noise and busyness on people living with dementia and shows how a building can support mobility, orientation and engagement in an active life.
The second module, Exploring Good Places to Live, showcases good practice examples from around the world and encourages participants to look for features that are applicable to their own work situation.
The final module (Transforming Buildings and the Organisations That Run Them) focuses on what the learner can do to bring about change in the built environment where they work.
While care homes can sometimes be disempowering and disabling places to live, this is not inevitable. There are many examples of care facilities that support people with dementia to retain independence and stay active. Our hope is that the course will help both individual learners and organisations to plan improvements and work to create better buildings and more usable gardens.
To access the course, Creating Supportive Environments for People Living with Dementia, visit: www.dta.com.au/online-courses/creating-supportive-environments/
Nick Seemann is an architect and Lead Environments Consultant with DTA’s Environments Consultancy team. To follow up on this article, email the DTA Environments Team on firstname.lastname@example.org