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Designing mental health units for older people

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Title: Designing mental health units for older people

Author: Marshall M

Publisher: The Publishing Bureau (Dementia Services Development Centre)

Reviewer: Ed Shields, nurse lecturer, Queen’s University Belfast

What was it like?

This book is produced by the Dementia Services Development Centre, University of Stirling, and it succinctly informs readers of the benefits of dementia-friendly building design, both inside and out, along with practical advice on how to make the environment help meet the needs of older people. The book has a strong evidence base from a range of international experts, which makes it commanding. Indeed, the book argues that dementia-friendly design should be viewed as a non-pharmacological intervention for people with dementia. The book sets out the challenges commonly seen in this patient group, such as walking a lot, restlessness, agitation, aggression, becoming withdrawn and sleep difficulties. It reminds the reader of impairments in sight, hearing and disturbance in sleep and mood that need to be managed. The reader is also reminded of problems in relation to impaired memory, impaired learning, impaired reasoning, high levels of stress and perceptual problems.

It offers guidelines on use of overall layout, floor colour and texture, the colour of skirting, walls and handrails, ceilings and doors, lighting and sound absorption. Also offers guidance on key features of specific rooms. For instance, modern taps on a wash basin may look nice but will almost certainly confound a confused person. Chairs that are a completely different colour to the floor and walls may be more easily identified by a person with perceptual problems. Many people may feel they know these things intuitively but this book may challenge that assumption.

What were the highlights? 

Throughout the book, high quality photographs are used extensively to illustrate good and poor design and use of space. They often convey the point effectively and easily.

Strengths & weaknesses:

The book is written in clear terms, with a total absence of technical language and jargon. It is, therefore, easy to read and delivers its guidelines simply and clearly.  Non nursing and medical staff could use the book usefully.

Who should read it? 

The writers suggest that the guidelines are for: planners and commissioners of new mental health units, architects designing new units, procurement staff, staff responsible for refurbishments, clinical staff who can make modifications to their units and technical staff who maintain units. Apart from these people, clinical staff, who work regularly with this patient group, should also know of these guidelines, thus enabling them to act as advocates when dealing with planners, managers and designers. I would suggest, also, that any staff working with this patient group would gain extra insights into the needs of older people with mental health problems.


Designing mental health units for older people

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