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30th April 2020

Designing and building for Dementia

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) is working with Alzheimer’s Society to support the construction sector to become more dementia-friendly.

850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, a number that is expected to rise to 1 million by 2021. We want to see an increased number of people with dementia being able to live longer in their own homes, with a greater focus on independent living. This can only be achieved by improving the homes that people live in and the public buildings that they visit. Across every part of the built environment sector, organisations can make a valuable contribution to support people with dementia facing these challenges to continue to live well in their own homes and community.

What issues can the built environment cause for people with dementia?

Dementia causes memory loss which can cause issues with navigating around, both in the community and the home. For example, people with dementia can have difficulties recognising familiar places or objects which can mean they struggle to identify their house or local amenities.

Dementia can also cause issues with vision and perception. For example, did you know a welcome mat by a door can look like a black hole, meaning people with dementia may be unable to go in and out of their own front door? 93% of homes lack even basic accessibility features. There are simple changes you can make to support people with dementia to continue living independently.

Dementia-friendly design checklist:

Effective wayfinding: 

- Aid navigation by designing building layouts so that people can have a clear overview of the whole building. For example, think about open-plan layouts where bathrooms are visible from all areas of the house. 

-The layout of corridors and courtyards can be planned to encourage independence, such as pathways in care homes that lead back to the centre. 

- Landmarks, such as a painting or a plant, can be used to help people navigate their way around the inside or outside of buildings. 

Interior design:

- Avoid wherever possible flooring, wallpaper, and curtains that are highly patterned as these can cause confusion – plain or mottled surfaces are better.

-Architects and designers should consider the Light Reflectance Value of paint. People with dementia perceive colours and tones differently – making sure paint has a high contrast between walls and floors can help with perception. 

-Colour can help people with dementia to find things, such as having toilets, handrails, and light switches in a contrasting colour so they’re easier to see.

External areas:

-Make the front door easy to tell apart from the others in the road by painting it a different colour or having a recognisable tile or door number. 

- Review areas outside the building for safety, particularly if there is an area for cars to park or drop/collect people. 

- Entrances should be obvious and easy to find.

There are also lots of immediate and inexpensive changes you can make to improve existing environments, such as providing clear signage and ensuring noise levels aren’t too loud. See Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friendly Housing Guide for more ideas:

The first step to understand more about how to support people affected by dementia is to become Dementia Friends. Dementia Friends is Alzheimer’s Society’s awareness raising programme changing the way society thinks, acts and talks about dementia. CIOB is providing this for free in two ways. Either:

  1.  Complete the short e-learning module at or
  2.  Go to and watch the videos using the code CIOB123


The way you build your environments can have a huge impact on people with dementia. Your decisions when planning and constructing new buildings can enable people with dementia, as well as other conditions, to enjoy a more meaningful and inclusive life.