Purpose: The independence and well-being of people with dementia can be significantly influenced by the design of the physical environments around them. Several assessment tools exist to evaluate the dementia design quality of existing residential aged care facilities but, to date, none have been formally identified as suitable for use during the design process. This paper aims to examine the feasibility of re-purposing existing post-occupancy tools for use during the design process, while mapping the influence of design stages on resulting dementia design quality. Design/methodology/approach: Literature searches identified audit tools for residential aged care settings. After reliability screening, three tools were analysed in-depth, mapping their suitability for use during the design process. Findings: The study confirmed that existing tools can be re-purposed for design stage use and identified that early design stages have a larger influence on overall dementia design quality than previously thought. Research limitations/implications: Non-English language publications were not reviewed. Searches may not have identified other existing audit tools for residential care environments. Practical implications: The ability to assess proposals at key stages of design may help improve the dementia design quality of future residential aged care environments – potentially enhancing the lives of ever-larger numbers of people with dementia. Originality/value: According to the authors’ knowledge, this is the first known paper to consider formal design-stage evaluation of dementia design quality and the first to identify the relative influence of key stages of design on the resulting dementia design quality.