Dementia Design at Home

Encouraging people with dementia to live in their own home as long as possible is important.  They will be familiar with their surroundings and as their condition develops not trying to remember new places will lessen their stress.  This is by no means an exhaustive list but here are a few suggestions on how changes in the home can support a person with dementia.

Increasing light levels for somebody with deteriorating vision and dementia can make a world of difference.  Maximise natural light by keeping window treatments light and bright and curtains stacked well clear of the window.   Paint the room a lighter colour and ensure that the room is adequately lit with a combination of general lighting (eg pendants, down lights or wall lights) and task lighting (eg desk lamps or floor lamps to aid close work.  When considering lighting, glare can be an issue whether from sunlight streaming through the window at a certain time of the day or an artificial light source with a bulb on show.  Both can cause discomfort and disorientation.

As well as declining sight, a person with dementia may suffer with impaired hearing.  I know myself how since my sight loss, a busy office can have me shutting my eyes before speaking to enable me to focus properly.  For a person with dementia too much noise will exacerbate the ability to think so simply considering the general background noise in a home and how it might be turned off or down will help them to formulate thoughts and lessen overwhelm.

Contrasts in floor surfaces can appear like a step to a person with dementia.  Even a dark threshold between two adjacent rooms can look like something that might cause a person to trip and make them nervous about walking over it.  Dark door mats in the hall against a lighter floor should also be avoided as they can appear like a hole.  When considering hard floor surfaces they should be matte to avoid glare; a shiny tiled floor in bright sunlight can look wet and cause confusion.  Ideally the flooring throughout the home should be the same colour regardless of the surface.  Continuing on the subject of contrast, it can be used most effectively for clearly indicating a change in surface.  For instance skirting painted to contrast with the floor will show a person with dementia very clearly where the floor ends and the wall begins.

Human beings recognise colour before words so colour coding is sometimes used by carers to help a person locate, for instance, things in their kitchen.  Whilst not a bad idea it is an idea that requires new learning so a picture of what is in the drawer would be preferable.

Finally the health benefits of fresh air are massive so encouraging a person with dementia to spend time in their garden is really important.  Vitamin D is good for our bones and may lessen the effect of a fall and daylight regulates the body clock so will help retain healthy sleeping patterns.  Ensuring that a person can easily and safely access an outdoor space will benefit their health as well and their sense of independence.