Reading the Signs: Wayfinding for dementia care

This project looks at how people with dementia find their way around the unfamiliar environment of a care home.

Dementia is often associated with memory loss, mood changes, and problems with communication and concentration. It can cause people living with the condition to become disorientated, even in once familiar surroundings. Unfortunately the effects of the illness tend to be magnified when people with dementia move into a care home and are unable to locate places in the new setting. This can lead to a feeling of lost autonomy for residents, and put extra strain on care staff as they work to help residents become familiar with their surroundings.

Standard wayfinding and sign systems are often unsuitable for people living with dementia who find it hard to process information and make decisions. Working with dementia care specialist Bupa, a comparative study was undertaken across three of its recently built care homes to gain insight into wayfinding problems and pilot interventions that might help.

Three different approaches
Each care home selected for research had a similar floor plan but adopted a different approach to signage. The first was a new home in which a minimal approach to signage was piloted, meaning clutter was removed and attention was focused on toilet signs. In the second home, co-design workshops were used to develop ideas with staff to test on site. The third home implemented a signage system designed by Bupa's in-house marketing team.

Intensive observations were under-taken in each home to assess each pilot. This confirmed the complexities of living with dementia and highlighted opportunities to develop some of the design principles being explored. Most significantly, the study confirmed the role of staff in interpreting the needs of residents. It also highlighted the need for distinctive signs and landmarks in the home that can be used to reassure and offer directions to residents.

The results of the research have been consolidated in design guidelines to help improve wayfinding in Bupa care homes. The signage and other changes to the interior of the homes should help provide more peace of mind to residents and give better support to staff in the care of residents.

Bupa logo
Bupa logo

Research Associate 2013: Lottie Crumbleholme

RCA Department: Visual Communication

Research Partner: Bupa, UK

Project Period: 2012 - 2013

Cinema sign
Cinema sign