Creating a Specialist Care Dementia Unit – The Collaborative Journey

Neylon S1, deFiddes D1, Payne R2


2Villa Maria Catholic Homes


VMCH’s St Bernadette’s received funding to refurbish an existing memory support unit to create a Specialist Dementia Care Unit.  The new unit delivers specialised care in an expertly designed and furnished environment focusing on stabilising and reducing the person’s symptoms over time so they can transition to a less intensive care setting.  VMCH delivers person-centred and goal-orientated care based on the Montessori Approach to Care to reduce the escalation of behaviours.  Integral ‘to do with rather than to do for’ is the provision of a space that is calming, without overcrowding or excess noise which encourages resident enablement.

Drawing on deFiddes’s expertise in living environments for older people, the presentation will share before and after plans of the SDCU and explain key design elements contributing to the project’s success.  The unit has a homely scale with a central kitchen, resident laundry and separate spaces promoting choice for activity or solitude. Bedroom/en-suite design and personalisation with diurnal lighting supports resident needs and preferences.  Clear sight lines with well defined pathways enable visual access, ease of movement and minimises the need for signage. Specialised accessorising encourages engagement and appropriate levels of stimulation whilst contributing to a familiar aesthetic.  Outdoor access points via automatic opening unlocked doors to reach choice of outdoor spaces and furnishings facilitate autonomy with specific landscaping enhancing sensory stimulation.

The organisations believe residents can live a life of purpose and value if the environment supports independence, engagement and connectedness and their collaboration made this consumer centric SDCU a reality.


For more than 25 years Debbie de Fiddes has been the CEO of de Fiddes and has extensive experience, knowledge and understanding of design for aged care, dementia and retirement living. She is a dementia design specialist, consultant, researcher and educator who is involved in projects locally, nationally and internationally.

Debbie is passionate about creating beautiful environments incorporating supportive spaces that work well for residents, staff and visitors through evidence based design. She established Design Guidelines for Dementia and Aged Care for the NSW Health Department, has written numerous publications and is the author of “Universal by Design”. Committed to being at the forefront of innovative design, knowledge and best practice, Debbie is a regular speaker at conferences and workshops with the most recent being the Eighth Ageing and Society Interdisciplinary Conference in Tokyo, Japan.

Debbie was approached by Alzheimer’s Australia to design and build an apartment suitable for a person living with dementia. ‘A Home for Life’ was created and was showcased at the International Alzheimer’s Conference held in Perth in April 2015 and features in the Dementia Enabling Environments website as a successful interactive tutorial.

Recent Comments
    Recent Comments