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Inside Australia’s dementia-friendly, sustainable-energy house

A team from the University of Wollongong (UOW) has officially launched Australia’s first dementia-friendly, net-zero energy house, which aims to improve quality of life for those with aged-related disabilities.

Taking its name from a flower that flourishes in challenging environments, the Desert Rose house is constructed with smart technology and design principles that adapt to occupants’ needs as they age.

The home is now complete and ready to compete in the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018.

Project manager Clayton McDowell said one of the strategies that enable people to stay at home longer was the creation of an environment where people could live their daily lives with the assistance of technology.

McDowell said an example of the ways in which the house design was adapted to its specific purpose was the layout, for example separating the ensuite bathroom from the master bedroom with a sliding door, meaning the toilet bowl can be in full view when an occupant wakes up.

“So you have direct line of sight to the bathroom, and studies have shown if you have direct line of sight to the toilet you are eight times more likely to use the bathroom,” McDowell said.

He added that while people usually associate dementia with forgetfulness it also affects other parts of the mind and body, so items like digital tap fittings were installed as there is no resistance when turning the tap if the user has poor hand strength.

The layout is also intended to capture a moment in time which can help to jog a person’s memory, McDowell said. While the technology is very advanced he added the fittings are designed to look like they are from an earlier time.

“If their dementia transports them back to the 1950s the tap handles will take them back to that time, so they know it’s where they wash their hands or have a drink of water,” he said.

Users are encouraged to maintain their daily activities to remain self-sufficient in their homes for longer, however McDowell said that for most people there will be a stage where higher care is needed, and the house’s construction caters for this (for example, having a door wide enough to fit a hospital bed).

He said that working in the design studio where they used virtual reality headsets to walk through the house allowed them to get a sense of how a client might feel about the layout, and if it didn’t work, the plan was revised.

It is estimated that dementia rates in Australia will double by 2050, and internationally it affects almost 50 million people.

The team behind the project, comprising students and staff from the University of Wollongong Australia-Dubai and TAFE NSW, based the concepts around UOW Professor Richard Fleming’s 10 design principles.

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