Dementia-friendly demo home launched by BRE

The first phase of a new ‘dementia-friendly’ home on the Building Research Establishment’s Watford Innovation Park has been completed, to demonstrate how a standard house can be adapted.

According to BRE, the project will help educate housebuilders, carers and relatives on how to better support those living with dementia, using design principles that are geared towards helping them to live in their own home for longer, thus improving quality of life and reducing the cost of care.

Costing around £300,000, the project has been designed by HLP Architects and is based on the “design for dementia principles” previously developed by Dr Rob McDonald (Liverpool John Moores University) and Bill Halsall (HLP Architects).

The 100 m2 Victorian House at the BRE has been adapted to cater for different types and stages of dementia, and to address day-to-day needs and identify the adaptations that can be made to enable those who are living with dementia to live independently. The upper floor of the home has been adapted for the more advanced stages of dementia.

More additions and enhancements are planned over the coming months to support the ongoing research projects, which will identify key areas that could help the millions of people who are in some way affected by dementia.


The dementia-friendly converted terrace house includes:

  • Clear lines of sight and colour-coded paths through the home that help guide people towards each specific room
  • Increased natural lighting, which is proven to help people stay alert during the day and to sleep better at night
  • Automatically controlled natural ventilation to provide good indoor air quality
  • Noise reduction features, to reduce stress
  • Simple switches and heating controls, and safety sensors in high risk areas such as the kitchen
  • Homely, simple and familiar interior design to help promote rest and relaxation.

The building design has been developed around the needs of two theoretical occupants, one male and one female. The design narrative describes how the features of the building have been adapted to support them as they age. The BRE intends to support the prototype with further short films detailing how dementia affects them on a “good, average and bad day”, with different actors re-creating the different stages of dementia. These films have been created by the University of Loughborough.

Director of BRE Innovation Parks, Dr. David Kelly commented:

“It is fantastic to see the finalisation of this stage of this project. It marks just a small part of a bigger research programme which should help assist those with dementia and their carers.

“We have worked with a multi-disciplinary team from the healthcare sector, as well as architects, lighting experts, colour specialists, and building physicists to develop a unique approach to home adaptation for dementia. Issues such as accessibility, layout, physical support, the quality of daylight and the reflectance of all surfaces have been considered.

“The home appears simple and straightforward, but every detail has been carefully designed to enable comfort, quality of life and the easiest and simplest navigation through the home for those with the condition. These measures will enable those with dementia to live at home for longer.”

The project draws expertise from a number of specialisms at Loughborough University, from the schools of architecture, building and civil engineering, design, and sport – and is based on a wealth of dementia research that has and continues to be carried out at the university. Moving forward, the home will be used to assist Loughborough’s ongoing research into how the features are used, with a view to further improving ways to support homeowners with dementia.

Eve Hogervorst, professor of Psychology at Loughborough is the university’s principal investigator on the project. She added:

“Most people experiencing dementia wish to remain at home, so the design and construction of new dwellings or home conversions is paramount.

“With this project we want to show how design solutions can be easily integrated within most current homes and communities to improve people’s lives.”

Dementia care reportedly costs families around £18bn a year, and affects about 850,000 people in the UK. The figure is expected to rise to more than one million in the UK by 2025. Two-thirds of these costs are paid by those who suffer from the condition and their families. This is in contrast to other conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, where the NHS provides care that is free at the point of use.