Forget the donut: How to create immersive and inclusive spaces for people living with dementia

By Simon Drysdale, Group Director of Seniors Living with ThomsonAdsett

The brief for Boandik Dementia Village was as beautifully simple as it was complex: design an engaging sensory garden enclosure within a residential complex for people living with dementia, without using the tried and tired donut-shaped centrepiece.

Located in South Australia’s Mount Gambier region, when completed Boandik Dementia Village will provide residential and palliative care for those living with dementia. It is one of a series of residential accommodation services for seniors and people living with disability operated by Boandik Lodge.

After developing and showing four master plan options for the sensory garden, Boandik opted for our “Big Sky” option, which drew much of its inspiration from the nearby iconic Umpherston Sinkhole sunken garden.

The initial concept design saw us challenge the spatial typology of dementia care to create a scalable and immersive experience through the use of architecture and landscape and was informed by Boandik’s ambition to make a regionally significant contribution to places of residential care.

Our mantra for the concept, and which is now being carried over to the design, is “generation, regeneration and inter-generation” which recognises the need for a space which encourages connection and engagement between each other and the richness of experiences offered by our landscape.

As musician Brian Eno says: “people live in different sizes of here”.

This way of thinking is very valuable when it comes to architectural design and master planning.

It encourages us to consider who we design for, the scale we design at, and the timescales we design in.

Home should be a safe haven for each of us and this is critical to ensuring the design of the sensory engagement, which will form part of the residential grounds of Boandik Dementia Village, is suitable for residents.

To achieve this, we are deploying three main experiential themes – cultural, social spatial and architectural with an allegorical lens.

This technique is important because not only does it present the opportunity to trigger memory, it can bring the customer and our client’s staff closer and thus better bonded through sharing values forged through the observation of place and intentional tracery.

In this design, there are references to the sinkhole, the agrarian paddock, the regional shed, main street, home, a select group of civic buildings from Mt Gambier and of course the ‘Big Sky’.

Cultural themes include connecting with the land, making space for the creation of new connections and building on existing connections, and holding true to the culture and climate of the Mt Gambier region for future residents of the village.

Social spatial themes to be considered in the design will centre around the development of spaces for living and gathering with others, as well as making spaces which promote looking in and looking out.

The architectural themes which will be developed for the design for the sensory garden will include concepts of home and place, safe shelter, and promoting a sense of identity and familiarity.  

Boandik CEO, Gillian McGinty, said the openness of the design which built in strong ties with the local region, notably the similarities to Umpherston Sinkhole and the use of local plant life, promised to promote that all important sense of familiarity needed by people living with dementia.