Residents bloom in Desert Rose House

People living with dementia could live in their homes longer with some thoughtful design and innovative features

Cameron Porter explains that a well-designed home can be inexpensive and maintain the quality of life for our ageing population.

I had two grandparents who spent their final years living with dementia. The most difficult thing to watch was not them forgetting who we were, or even what decade it was. It was the frustration they felt trying to do the simplest of everyday tasks.

Houses designed with young families in mind are often unsuitable for our ageing population. Your standard house provides numerous challenges to someone living with dementia and other age-related conditions. Some examples include hot water taps being confused with cold water taps resulting in burns; people with arthritis can struggle to open windows, and a house with many rooms can make navigation confusing for residents with dementia.

This often means that as people age, or their dementia develops, they have little choice but to leave their home and move to a better equipped retirement facility or nursing home. However, there is evidence that remaining in the family home can result in an increased sense of wellbeing, independence and comfort for many individuals. 

There will always be circumstances where professional care and specialist facilities are necessary. But often, with the right home environment, this can be delayed. Dementia, and other conditions associated with ageing should not cost people their quality of life. 

Dementia is now the leading cause of disability in Australia for those over the age of 65. It is a condition that a staggering 46.8 million people throughout the world are living with and a new case is diagnosed every 2.5 seconds.

A computer render of the Desert Rose house

Now is the time that our building industry and retirement living industry need to be exploring innovative and cooperative solutions to house our ageing population in the comfort and familiar surroundings of their own home. We must act swiftly if we are to have any chance of maintaining quality of life for a whole generation without significantly impacting future generations. 

Team UOW Australia-Dubai is committed to being at the forefront of this change, creating a positive impact on the future of Australian housing. Through practical collaboration between students and industry, Team UOW endeavour to change the way the world views sustainable housing. We want to do this by building a “house for life” – a home that is architecturally inspiring, affordable and adaptive to a resident’s needs as they age. 

Our entry into Solar Decathlon Middle East is Desert Rose House, which addresses issues faced by ageing residents – particularly those living with dementia – while also focusing on environmental sustainability. The Desert Rose promotes wellbeing and caters for those with the most active lifestyle as well as those with age-related disabilities. It will celebrate life by helping older residents live a life of enjoyment in the comfort of their own home for as long as they choose. 

Three people overlooking the construction of the Desert Rose house

We are working with industry bodies like Dementia Australia, as well as nurses, doctors, geographers, engineers, retirement living providers, people living with dementia and people who have cared for those with dementia. We are taking their suggestions and stories to guide the design of the house. 

This has resulted in an array of solutions including:

  • A structural frame suitable for the attachment of handrails and other mobility measures.
  • Home automation to assist with day to day tasks such as electronically controlled taps which can be easily used either by hand or voice control.
  • A light colour scheme that does not result in increased stress as many modern, dark, home interiors do.
  • Low-risk appliances that take advantage of the Internet of Things to ensure safety and ease of use, so things like lighting and temperature can be controlled using a mobile phone.
  • Carefully considered fixtures including taps which are easily recognisable, responsive and non-resistant for those with arthritis or weakened muscles.
  • Open spaces with increased visual clues and greater line-of-sight across the space to reduce stress and increase mobility.
  • Lighting design that responds to research around comfortable lighting for the elderly, as well as a system that enables an easier operation of lighting. 

Our house breaks down the idea that sustainable housing and aged focused industries are two separate industries that aren’t mature enough to operate cohesively. Team UOW believes that, due to the agility in both these sectors, now is the best time to act. 

Cameron Porter is a member of Team UOW Australia-Dubai which competed in the 2018 Solar Decathlon Middle East. 

Cameron Porter
Currently studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Graphic Design) / Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies (Marketing Communication and Advertising)

Clayton McDowell
Desert Rose House Project Manager
Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, 2009
Master of Engineering Practice, 2012

Emily Ryan
Desert Rose House Operations Manager
Bachelor of Commerce (Supply Chain Management), 2014