Around 50 million people worldwide are dealing with some form of dementia, and that number is expected to rise to 82 million by 2030 and 152 million by 2050, according to the World Health Organization. Today, a new person is diagnosed with dementia every three seconds. Dementia could even top the Fortune 500 list, with companies working in that sector valued at $610 billion in 2018. Compare that number to Apple at $230 billion and Walmart at $500 billion, and you start to get a sense of the enormity of this market.

Today, the “behaviors” associated with dementia such as anxiety, depression, and irritability are often dealt with by administering medications. But these medications often have side effects that deprive individuals of their full capabilities. The questions to ask ourselves as a community: How can we use the environment to help facilitate a supportive culture that provides the highest level of quality of life and independence to those with cognitive issues? And how can we make adaptions to the environment to accommodate a range of abilities and encourage personal expression and purpose?

During a recent Pebble in Practice workshop on Designing for an Aging Mind, Addie Abushousheh, research associate at The Center for Health Design, proposed several environmental design strategies for healthcare settings during her “Designing Settings for Memory Care” presentation. For example, in order to mitigate overstimulation for individuals who have diminished coping thresholds, Abushousheh suggested reducing the perceived size and number of occupants per care/waiting area. To aid in wayfinding, layouts and spaces should be designed using intuitive room configurations and adjacencies.

Providing visual, physical, and even virtual access to nature can help orient older adults to time and place. Additionally, because many older patients, especially those with dementia, become anxious in unfamiliar environments, using a residential ambience, character, and décor can help make people feel more comfortable.

Within the broader community, another unique solution, and one that’s starting to see traction worldwide, is to create entire dementia-friendly communities where people with cognitive impairments live alongside their neighbors with limited restrictions. Like universal design, where good design benefits all who use it regardless of needs or abilities, dementia-friendly communities use design and community networks to support people of all cognitive abilities.

For example, in Bruges, Belgium, community leaders maintain a database of people with dementia in case one of them goes missing. Stores there have trained their employees on how best to communicate with individuals with dementia, and signs let customers know that a store is dementia-friendly. To learn more about this movement, visit the Dementia Friendly America website.

It’s clear that a large portion of the population is going to be impacted by dementia. This reality is coupled with baby boomers’ expectations of amenities and services that will enable them to lead full lives and maintain their familiar routines, hobbies, and lifestyles for as long as possible. The challenges to achieving this are significant, but so too are the opportunities. I can’t wait to see how the industry employs innovative tools and resources to create new solutions.

For more information on the Designing for the Aging Mind workshop and webinars of some of the presentations given, visit The Center’s website at

Debra Levin is president and CEO of The Center for Health Design. She can be reached at