Case study: Wayfinding for dementia care


Bupa care for over 8,000 people living with dementia, and are continuing to invest in more high quality purpose-built care homes. Unfortunately, relocating to a home is a disorientating experience, and the question of how to best support residents in finding their way around these unfamiliar environments remained unanswered. Bupa identified a tendency to err on the side of caution, putting up lots of signs. However this can create the feeling of an institution and add visual clutter that may be overwhelming for some residents.

Typical signage systems rely on a person’s ability to interpret the world around them, process information and act decisively. Therefore they may not be meaningful to a person living with dementia, as these are the kinds of mental processes that people find harder as their condition progresses. More insight was needed into the problems people have with finding their way around in Bupa’s care homes, what level of signage is helpful and what other solutions might be more appropriate.


In leading this year long study, I undertook the following activities:

  • literature review to understand how dementia affects a person’s ability to navigate new spaces, and build up cognitive maps

  • visits to a range of existing Bupa dementia care homes to document the signage currently used, meet residents and interview care staff

  • co-design workshops with care staff to understand the problem and generate ideas

  • comparative study to test different solutions across three Bupa homes

  • in-depth observations in each home to compare solutions and evaluate success

  • creating design guidelines for Bupa’s property development team, outlining essential signage and other environmental solutions


This study highlighted two key wayfinding problems: distinguishing between corridors and finding the bathrooms. It also uncovered interesting behaviour, for example residents who were unsure of where to go were more likely to look for a member of staff to ask than they were to look for a sign. However, some of the signs tested in the comparative study made it easier for staff to offer directions. Brightly coloured, distinct, clearly recognisable signs, mounted at eye-level on doors, gave clear markers for carers to point residents towards.

A set of design guidelines were produced outlining the finding of the study and recommendations for Bupa’s property development team to implement as they continue to build or refurbish more care homes.

You can hear more about this project here