Dementia is a deeply personal disease, and this has driven a team at UOW/TAFE Illawarra to create Desert Rose, the world’s very first dementia-friendly, net-zero energy house.
Many of us here in the Illawarra will have had close encounters with the disease, watching loved ones deteriorate, or feeling our own minds grow confused and fuzzy.
In NSW there are over 138,000 people living with dementia, according to Dementia Australia.
More than 200 volunteers have been designing, planning and building the house at TAFE Illawarra’s Wollongong campus since 2016, and many of them have had loved ones with age-related disabilities.
“The reason the team is so big is because this issue is really personal for so many of us,” design construction manager Luca Faidutti said.
The idea was born out of project manager Clayton McDowell’s research, in which he studied the homes of 200 low-income earners.
On one visit to an elderly woman in the Southern Highlands, he noticed that her arthritis was so bad that she couldn’t open the latch on her windows.
“She asked that we keep all the windows cracked open during the interview even though it was winter,” he said.
“It means that her house is never fully locked. I just thought, why does it have to be like this? And stories like that kept emerging.”
The house will include cutting edge design features with an age-friendly twist, such as digital tapware.
“People with dementia struggle with modern taps where it’s all in one, so we’ve taken it back to two separate taps,” waste and water manager Daniel Simpson said.
“They’ll be digital as well, so they’ll digitally register the twisting motion and no strength is required. They’ll also turn off by themselves if the person forgets.”
Mr McDowell says that the team are pushing the boundaries of design in order to set an example of an option for people to stay in the communities that they love.
Read more: Inside winning Wollongong fibro home: photos
In order to raise even more awareness of the issue, the team will also be participating in the Wollongong Memory Walk on March 4 at Stuart Park, North Wollongong.
“There’s no point in building this house if no one hears about it,” operations manager Emily Ryan said.
Alongside the team’s push for dementia to be recognised and catered for in the Illawarra, the house will soon be heading to Dubai, along with 35 of the 200 team members, for the Solar Decathlon, an international competition for sustainable housing.
“It’s not really about winning for us, and that’s why we want to go in this walk.” Mr Faidutti said.
Sign up for the walk at https://www.memorywalk.com.au/events/44/illawarra