Sitting with John is no easy task. His energy and enthusiasm for his two passions, music and developing dementia care, make it almost impossible for him to confine himself to the prison of a chair. I’m in Nottingham, the city where it all began, sitting with a friend I’ve known all of my adult life. We have navigated our friendship around the geographic hurdles and followed each others journey with genuine interest and care. John Osborne’s entrepreneurial and leadership skills are legendary as a care provider and developing leadership skills in healthcare in the UK. His latest project at JoCo, “Soundtrack of My Life” embraces personalized music as an integral component for improving the quality of life for those with dementia. Carers in the Midlands in the UK, trained by John and his team at JoCo using this tool, are now reporting positive feedback accompanied with the findings of the University of Nottingham studying the benefits of implementing “Soundtrack of My Life” for people with dementia. However John reminds me that a staggering 830.000 British citizens are currently diagnosed with dementia, with overwhelming economical, social and emotional burdens with numbers set to rise to 3 million by 2050. This will impact on the very nature of the societies in which we live. But it is the unbearable stigma for those with dementia and their loved ones that they have to endure due to our lack of willingness to engage with those with this terrible disease that goes deep.
Back in Copenhagen, it is still difficult to shake off an uneasy thought I have had since my meeting with John. As a spatial designer, I am well aware of my responsibilities when shaping and forming physical environments, but have my interior designs included the basic elements, e.g. orientation, color schemes and spatial planning that engage with those with dementia? I doubt it. There are undoubtedly enormous challenges for urban planners, architects and spatial planners in Copenhagen, but with 90.000 Danes already diagnosed with dementia and 15.000 annually adding to that depressing number, the possibilities of creating positive environments for all our citizens are attainable. With the esteemed, Danish Dementia Research Center in Copenhagen researching and communicating information about dementia to all professionals, this center would be an obvious choice for any architect or design student to gather more information.
The Danish organization, Alzheimerforeningen, also provides valuable insight, into the mechanics of the disease, but also importantly how we as relatives, friends and colleagues can relate and understand dementia. In researching for this article, I happily came across an encouraging project from Copenhagen´s Institute of Interaction Design. The project, “Design of Alzheimer’s, Memory Maps, was the brainchild of two young designers, Ritika Mathur and Shu Yang Lin. The Memory Map, is designed for those in the early stages of dementia and encourages them and their family members to record stories and revisit shared memories. A highly sympathetic project, which the video bears out and has rightly attracted much attention. My valuable meeting with John, led me to believe that architects and spatial designers can inspire one another and play a vital role in creating enriching public and retail spaces that reduce anxiety, discomfort and confusion with those with dementia. Let´s make dementia friendly spaces in Copenhagen in 2015.
Video credits: Ritika Mathur and Shu Yang Lin.