Healthcare innovation can take many forms. It can be a breakthrough in our understanding of the biology of cancer, or a disease that allows new drugs to target it in an effective way, for example. We also see it with advances in medical technology such as implants that can help restore vision or imaging techniques that may allow faster and more accurate diagnoses.
However, one area that I had not thought about until recently was how innovation in a building’s design can impact the delivery of healthcare.
We interact with design every day without thinking much about it. Advertisers use design in brand marketing all the time to create instantly recognizable logos that we automatically associate with a product.
Listeners to Roman Mars’ outstanding podcast, 99% Invisible, will already be familiar with the power of design in everyday life. This podcast is well worth a listen!
Currently, I’m in Liverpool in the North West of England for personal and professional reasons, and while here I’m looking at some of the innovative work being done in the area around dementia care.
Since then I have also been to Liverpool City Councils’ Sedgemoor Dementia Support Centre in Norris Green. The Centre recently won a national design award at the health care equivalent of the Oscars (Best Care Complex at the Healthcare Design Awards).
My mother, Audrey, had Alzheimer’s disease – a form of dementia – and spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home. While the carers were wonderful people, I always found it rather depressing to visit. She spent everyday sitting in a standard care home chair in a lounge area that had little cognitive stimulation other than a TV blaring in the background, high up on the wall, just creating mindless noise.
While Audrey’s memory was a bit like a Swiss cheese, she was able to engage in a conversation and had moments of great lucidity. As Tommy Dunne (@TommyTommyTee18), who has early onset Alzheimer’s told me at Everton FC: he has dementia, but he’s not demented!
I was curious to know what was innovative about the Sedgemoor dementia support centre; can design really make such a difference in the delivery of health care to those with dementia? You can judge for yourself after watching the audio slideshow from my visit.
Sedgemoor shows what can be done in the public sector. Like many examples of successful innovation it had a champion with a vision, willing to take risks, think outside the box and break from the norm of what might otherwise have been a utilitarian oblong box.
That champion with a vision is Liverpool City Council’s Joy McDonnell, a qualified architect who was the client lead. Joy spent two hours giving me a guided tour of Sedgemoor, explaining how each part of the building, even down to the fixtures and fittings, was designed to afford the maximum benefit to users with dementia. I was blown away.
Since it was going to be impossible for me to do justice to a two-hour visit as part of a 6-minute radio documentary I’m producing for a journalism course, I’ve taken some of the pictures from my visit and matched these with the sound I recorded to create an audio slideshow:
What I hope is that Sedgemoor is not just an isolated example, but sets a precedent for future buildings. This is how more dementia care facilities could be designed. If Liverpool City Council can create a publicly funded building like this for the same price as they would an oblong box, why can’t others repeat it around the country?
I would have loved the nursing home my Mother ended up in to have had many of the design features I saw at Sedgemoor. I could see how this would have improved her quality of life, helped stimulate her memories and keep her more active and engaged.
For anyone who has a chronic long-term illness, such as cancer or dementia, it’s not just about how long you live, but having a good quality of life while you are alive. That is something we should all aspire to for our loved ones and ourselves.
I would like to thank Liverpool City Council, and in particular the press office and dementia support lead, Phil Wong, for making my visit happen. Thanks also to Sedgemoor Manager Mary Plumpton for a warm welcome. Joy McDonnell was not only generous with her time, but gave of herself to bring Sedgemoor to life for me. Thank you, Joy!
If you have come across some innovative programs in the dementia or Alzheimer’s area, do feel share them in the comments section below.
Update June 5, 2014: listen to living well with dementia – a personal journey
My research into designing for dementia was undertaken while on a BJTC accredited diploma in radio journalism course based at Radio City in Liverpool. You can listen via SoundCloud to the documentary I produced on living well with dementia – a personal journey: