Mental/behavioural healthcare / New models of care
European Healthcare Design 2018
Dolf’s room: how changing the environment of a client with mental disabilities can make a difference to his life
By Andrea Möhn and Linda Van Beest | 23 Oct 2018 | 0
This talk describes a design project to support a man with severe mental disabilities. For almost 25 years, Dolf lived in a room that offered little stimulation and brought little joy or comfort. Dolf lives with severe mental disabilities, and while he experiences no limitations physically, he often poses a danger to both himself and his environment.
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For almost 25 years, Dolf lived in a room that offered little stimulation and brought little joy or comfort. Dolf lives with severe mental disabilities, and while he experiences no limitations physically, he often poses a danger to both himself and his environment.
Housing him involved fixed furniture and fittings, and walls and ceilings often covered with plastic panels, which have, arguably, impeded his quality of life further. It’s also why we were approached for suggestions on how this might be addressed.
We began by observing Dolf and quickly noticed a repetitive behaviour. Dolf ran up and down his room, wearing Wellington boots, giving the impression of a man trapped and craving the outdoors. This gave us an incentive: to design a space that combines interior and exterior areas as a whole.
The plan we created demonstrates a continuous floor, connecting apartment and garden. As the door is often open, it’s no longer possible to keep the space heated at a consistent temperature, so we applied heated spots, further enhancing sensory experiences.
To add colour and aesthetics, we covered the main wall with a large print. The image, by photographer Martin Kers, was chosen to correlate with Dolf’s memories of the countryside in which he grew up. When Dolf engages with the image, it relaxes him.
In the short time following project completion, Dolf’s behaviour improved significantly. Fewer staff were needed to care for him, leading to cost-savings.
The project required a collaborative and innovative approach by all involved, including architect, contractor, medical staff, family, behaviourists, and facility managers. While this led to a complex design process, the final result is a tailored environment that contributes to a much better quality of life. By tailoring physical experiences, the housing has helped create a richer environment, contributing to the patient’s improved wellbeing.
The project also highlighted how a well-designed space based on carefully observed behaviour and the correct interpretation can change people’s lives – not only for patients but also for those who provide care. Similar approaches are being applied for other patients throughout our client’s organisation.