A house for abandoned seniors living with dementia

This holiday season, give the gift of shelter and care to extremely vulnerable aging adults with dementia. From left to right, these are Marcia,  Gregoria, and Isaias.  They are three of the fifteen residents of  “Santa Rosa House,” in the city of Iquitos in Peru’s Amazon Rainforest region, and one of the cities most devastated by the COVID 19 pandemic .  All the residents do not have families and live with dementia.  Before joining Santa Rosa, many of them were in precarious conditions and many living in the streets.  Iquitos, Peru has seen some of the highest deaths due to COVID-19 per capita in the world. Waves of pandemic have devastated families in the Peruvian Amazon’s largest city, exacerbating already disproportionately low access to shelter and care for a growing aging population including people living with dementia. 

The Santa Rosa House is the only facility of its kind in the region, and conditions are insufficient to meet the needs of residents. For one, the home faces extremely crowded conditions, with up to six small beds crammed into rooms designed for two. This leads to a lack of physical accessibility for aging adults: handrails are lacking, there is no room to push a walker, and wheelchairs are unable to maneuver. Due to lack of space, the Santa Rosa House also lacks the social and therapeutic spaces needed for quality dementia care. 

Onsite workers at the Santa Rosa House, including nurses, cleaning and kitchen staff, and a doctor, also struggle to provide the quality care that the residents require. They’ve said that the kitchen is ill equipped to support all the residents, that there is insufficient storage in the house for medicine, supplies, and food, and that worker-designated areas like a nurse station, rest area, improved laundry facilities, and secure closets/cabinets are needed for them to provide better care to residents. Furthermore, there are hundreds of abandoned aging adults in Iquitos who desperately need the same services, and who are currently living in extremely vulnerable conditions on the street or other precarious conditions. High demand for higher quantity and quality of dementia care exists. For these reasons, Santa Rosa House management expressed interest in working with a Traction Design Iquitos team to redesign, renovate, and expand the house. 

The design team used a participatory design approach with Santa Rosa House residents and on-site workers, asking them many questions to understand their specific needs and preferences. They also worked with experts in dementia care and therapeutic design to understand how best to design a space for quality dementia care, and followed available evidence-based design guidelines for aging adults with dementia. Furthermore, the team set up a research study to measure the effects of the renovation on the wellbeing of residents and onsite workers in order to inform the future design of much-needed similar facilities throughout the region.

The renovation design ensures accessibility through features like handrails, non-slip floors, turning radii for wheelchairs, and way-finding details. It also includes several indoor and outdoor therapeutic and social spaces, cross-ventilation and natural light in every bedroom, and doubles the number of abandoned adults with dementia that the Santa Rosa House is able to support from 15 to 30.


Susan Bolton
Seattle, WA
Traction Design Action Research
Registered nonprofit
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