For most of us, the local main street shopping strip is a familiar and welcome sight and a place for positive community interaction. 

Now two Sydney aged care facilities are harnessing traditional main street architecture to help residents with dementia find services.

Anglicare has used the ‘main street’ format at two of its recently-opened Western Sydney residential aged care facilities - at Melva McDonald Lodge at Rooty Hill and Dudley Foord House at The Ponds.

Melva McDonald Lodge features five shops, including a hairdresser, newsagency, café, physiotherapist and a place to visit the facility’s staff.

Shopfronts at Melva McDonald Lodge

Dudley Foord House also includes a number of shops, including a hairdresser as well as a library, meeting place, wellness centre and a place to visit the chaplain. 

The hair salon at Melva McDonald Lodge

The shops all have ornate frontages, clear signage and different colours, meaning they are easier to identify by residents who may have memory loss, along with adding character and charm for all residents.

Martin Todorovitch, Melva McDonald Lodge's manager, said the approach had been very popular with residents.

The old style ‘main street’ reminds residents of their youth and also assists with finding the services they need. Each ‘shop’ is a different colour,” Mr Todorovitch said.

The ‘main street’ format success underlines the need for careful design approaches for facilities catering for people with dementia, and the need to integrate these residents within the broader community.

The newsagency design at Melva McDonald Lodge

The ‘main street’ approach has been most famously used at The Hogeweyk dementia village in The Netherlands, which has been designed as a fully functional neighbourhood, including having houses and a pub, restaurant, theatre and supermarket.

Importance of design

In an address to the National Press Club in April, Dementia Australia chair Graeme Samuels outlined the importance of design when it came to caring for people with dementia.

“If you have seen the films Still Alice, or more recently The Father, you will recall how a rug on the floor appears to be a deep hole, how patterns on carpet, bedding, wallpaper or even clothing, are mistaken for crawling bugs or snakes,” Mr Samuels said.

“How an all white bathroom leads to confusion between a sink and the toilet - a simple coloured toilet seat can overcome this - and how a broom cupboard door appears to be a door leading to a hallway.”

According to Dementia Australia, in 2021, there are an estimated half a million people living with dementia in Australia and around 1.6 million people involved in their care. That number is expected to triple by 2050 unless there is a medical breakthrough. 

Comment from our CEO CEO Amanda Graham said it was great to see Anglicare developing innovative multi-disciplinary approaches like “main streets” to help residents with dementia.

“Dementia is one of the major and growing health and care challenges of our time and this is a good example of how Anglicare has used urban design to assist people with dementia remain active within their community,” she said.

A resident strolls past shops at Melva McDonald Lodge