What is it that makes a building feel like home? More specifically, what are the elements that personalise a living space so that it echoes an individual’s sense of self and evokes memories of a full and colourful life – particularly for those living with dementia?
“While those with advanced dementia may struggle to remember the immediate past, they are often able to remember their more distant memories and many enthusiastically relate their rich earlier experiences in vivid detail,” says Donovan Seeliger from Republic Interiors, an independent interior designer who provides services to dementia care facility Livewell Villages in Bryanston, Johannesburg.
Taking into account a range of innovative approaches and perspectives in dementia care, Livewell contracts interior consultants who are experienced in developing environments especially suited to the elderly and those who live with dementia. The result of these efforts is a more comprehensive approach to caring for people with dementia in South Africa.
“For many elderly individuals, moving to a care facility is a significant life change, and is quite understandably an emotional time for them and their families. The Livewell team consequently goes to great lengths to ease this transition to their new home and to make the person with dementia feel safe, comfortable, and at home in their new environment,” he explains.
Cultivating familiarity and reminiscence in a new setting
Seeliger says that a critical aspect of his work is to develop environments that assist in creating a sense of familiarity and safety for people with dementia. This is particularly important for the new resident, relocating from a home environment where they have most likely spent a number of years.
Seeliger himself puts a great deal of time and effort into establishing the personal tastes and preferences of the elderly individual prior to the big move. This is done to ensure that they have a seamless move into the care facility as possible.
“Prior to them moving in, I meet with the person as well as their family to try to get to know them and understand their needs and requirements. I also undertake an interior consultation with the family to establish how we can best furnish and decorate the suite. A visit to the current home of the person with dementia assists me to establish what their sense of style and personal décor preferences are, and what ornaments and photographs, for example, may be particularly important to them.”
Personalisation with practicality and safety in mind
Seeliger is then able to purpose-design the new resident’s suites at Livewell by incorporating many of their most treasured possessions. His aim is at all times to make the new resident feel as comfortable and familiar in their new surroundings as possible, creating a truly homely and highly personalised environment. “I usually find it most beneficial to find ways to encourage the connection to memory and past experience through design, while considering the practical implications of an environment suited to the residents’ needs.”
“On the one hand the safety of the mostly elderly residents, some of whom become confused at times while others may be apt to wander, must be considered, while, on the other, the environment must also be attractive and familiar. We want this new phase of life to be as stimulating, creative and rewarding as possible for residents and their families.”
Getting to know a new resident
Once the new resident has moved to Livewell Villages, the caring staff members make every effort to help them settle in. One aspect of this is gaining an understanding of the resident’s particular needs, in terms of their individual preferences and condition, and anticipating how this information can assist the staff to make them feel at home.
At the entrance of each suite is a small “Getting to know me” board. This displays the name and photograph of each resident and a mini-biography including some of their interests. This assists companions and carers to get to know each resident and it also provides cues for stimulating conversation.
Livewell places an emphasis on enabling residents to move about the facility freely with personal carers who ensure their safety and wellbeing. All suites are equipped with call buttons in case residents require assistance or reassurance.
“If the new resident has pot plants that they enjoy taking care of, we will also try to accommodate as many of those as possible and some of our residents have impressive pot plant gardens,” he observes. “Livewell also goes to great lengths to accommodate residents’ precious pets.”
Continuous attention to detail
“Photographs are important to many elderly individuals and also often serve to stimulate and support memory. We consequently try to keep as many of their pictures on display as we can, and may alternate favourite photographs or other personal items to help stimulate memory and reminiscence,” Seeliger adds.
“We strive to keep the environment dynamic, yet familiar, and are always looking for ways to enhance quality of life for each resident.”
The result is a facility in which there are displays of old cameras, ornaments and art works, and the décor is warm and inviting. Rich textures, pleasant aromas and reminders of a bygone era permeate the space, imbuing it with an inviting and cosy air.
Chief executive officer of the Livewell Group, Ivan Oosthuizen, explains that the Livewell Villages have been purpose-designed to be spaces that are not only practical and safe for people living with dementia, but are also luxurious, warm, inviting and feel like home. “With proper planning, attention to detail and the assistance of dedicated professional carers, the wellbeing of those with dementia can be supported for optimal quality of life,” he notes.
According to Oosthuizen, these are among the reasons why the Livewell Villages in Bryanston and Somerset West, which offer day care or live-in residential care services to people with dementia, places such an emphasis on getting to know prospective residents and their families.
“This enables our team to understand the unique requirements and expectations of both the person with dementia, as well as their families, and to specifically tailor-make a holistic care programme around the individual, taking into account the things they enjoy and the comfort afforded through familiarity, as they are welcomed into the Livewell family,” he adds.
“These kinds of details are important to consider in order to achieve as smooth a transition from an old way of life to the new, and to as far as possible ensure that this new phase of life is as rewarding as possible,” concludes Oosthuizen.