Gun Aremyr is one of Sweden's leading experts in dementia. Since 1987, she has met people with dementia, their relatives and staff in her role as occupational therapist, supervisor, lecturer and family counsellor. She has also written five books on the subject.

How has our perception of care of the elderly changed over time?

In the past, we had nursing homes where we cared for sick people as a group. Today we have nursing homes and retirement homes where individuals with illnesses and disabilities receive assistance. In the mid-1900s, it was believed that dementia was part of ageing and that not much could be done about it. Nursing care was certainly good but wards were large and all patients had the same clothing. Those who could sit up were placed, sometimes using a belt to hold them, in easy chairs along the walls in corridors and in the day room. Today we know that dementia is a cognitive disease and that the individuals who suffer from it are just individuals. When you require 24-hour care, you get your own flat which you furnish with your own furniture. In common rooms and kitchens, efforts are made to create an environment where people can socialise.

How do you define the term 'healing spaces'?

A healing space is a space where I can feel safe, where I get stimulation but can also find peace and quiet. We experience life through our senses. Because of my cognitive impairment, I often have difficulty concentrating, and chaotic environments inhibit me. In a healing space, all our senses have therefore been taken into consideration: vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, sense of muscles and joints and sense of balance. Interior design in a nursing home must create a sense of safety and provide the opportunity for both rest and stimulation. An attractive, appealing environment respects me as a person, but a low-quality, worn-out environment can be interpreted as meaning that I'm not important

What is the greatest future challenge for care of the elderly and dementia patients?

Creating a dementia-friendly society, since a dementia-friendly society is a society which is good for all individuals – regardless of whether they are sick or healthy, old or young. Slowing down the pace when needed. At the checkout in shops as well as in healthcare and nursing. Actually in all situations where a person with dementia has to make a decision. We must talk to each other instead of talking at each other. The surroundings should also provide clear signals about where I am. This could be signs in a shop or toilet doors with a special colour and a text or symbol that means that I'm in the right place.

Do you think that decision-makers know what requirements they should set as regards interior design in healthcare environments?

We should get better at involving staff from different professions before the restoration and construction of residential homes. We must remember that assistant nurses, nurses and rehab staff have particular points of view regarding what is required in the environment. High quality pays off in the long run, and so does getting it right from the start.

"In the past, we had nursing homes where we cared for sick people as a group. Today we have nursing homes which care for individuals."

Gun Aremyr, Author and Supervisor in the Field of Dementia

Get to know the people in the conversation