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Defining ‘Dementia-friendly’ in Care With the New Scientist

This September, an exciting new campaign was launched in the New Scientist with Mediaplanet, titled Understanding Dementia. The campaign’s aim is to change the conversation about dementia, with prominent leaders in the field giving their contributions. We are very proud that Jo Crossland, our Head of Dementia Care, was asked to write an article that featured in the campaign, looking at what we really mean by ‘dementia friendly’ in care and how care cultures are changing.

Jo discussed in her article that the stereotype of care homes for people with cognitive difficulties has been one where residents had their physical care needs met by untrained staff. Thanks to contemporary research, a broader understanding of the impact of cognitive impairment on each person and listening to the views of those living with dementia, this image has changed significantly.

Previously, traditional ‘dementia-friendly’ care homes aimed to stimulate, orientate and occupy residents, for example by using bright, often primary colours within a simplistic, often child-like environment. Whilst this was once regarded as best practice, it is now recognised as less helpful to those living with dementia.

The most current research reinforces that a normal, homely care environment with sensitive, well though-out adaptions is more supportive to a person living with dementia, as they struggle to make sense of a world that is progressively unclear. [1,2]

Ultimately, a truly dementia-friendly environment is a familiar and supportive one, full of people who are friends to the resident.

Familiarity Versus New

Moving into a care home should be regarded as the next stage of a person’s life, rather than the end of ‘normal’ living and the beginning of a new and unknown existence. To make it the best experience for any resident and their loved ones, familiarity and preferred routines should be maintained and incorporated with new opportunities.

Previously, the focus was on keeping people living with dementia ‘safe’ by protecting them from that deemed as dangerous. Now, we appreciate that engaging in the process of life is essential to a residents’ well-being, regardless of cognitive decline. Managing risks positively in everyday living is the difference between a life where hope is lost, and maintaining a sense of purpose and personal meaning where well-being is achieved, regardless of a person’s cognitive impairment.

Skilled Staff

A trained workforce is essential to meet the often complex care needs of residents living with dementia. We risk failing those who rely upon us most if we do not ensure that care staff have the appropriate skills and knowledge. It is imperative to invest in high-quality, relevant training for all staff, especially if residents living with dementia and their loved ones are to receive the very best levels of person-centred care and support possible. [3]

The Importance of Being an Individual

Tom Kitwood, nationally and internationally renowned as a pioneer of modern, person-centred dementia care, surmised that dementia may mask the life experiences and unique characteristics of a person, but it can never completely remove them. His statement: “If you have met one person with dementia, you have met one person with dementia,” still serves as a valuable reminder that one approach never fits all in dementia care. [4]


Jo’s article underlies Avery’s approach to dementia care, as seen in our ReConnect Programme. Read more about the campaign and join in with the conversation using #UnderstandingDementia on social media or read Jo’s full article, titled ‘Dementia-friendly care isn’t what it used to be’.

[1] Innes, A., Kelly, F., and Dincarslan, O. (2011) Care home design for people with dementia: What do people with dementia and their family carers value? Aging & Mental Health Vol. 15, No. 5

[2] Social Care Institute for Excellence:

[3] Surr, C., Gates, C., Irving, D., Oyebode, J., Smith, S.J., Parveen, S., Drury-Payne, M. and Dennison, A. (2017) Effective dementia education and training for the health and social care workforce: A systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research 

[4] Kitwood, T. (1997) Dementia Reconsidered, the person comes first. Open University Press, Berkshire