Updated: Jun 15, 2021
Dementia can create various difficulties in day-to-day life, but some of the strain can be eased by ensuring the home is as dementia-friendly as possible. Dramatic changes to the surrounding environment can cause distress, but a few simple adaptations may be all that is needed for a happier life for both the person living with dementia and their family.
The first thing to do is ensure that the person with dementia has had their condition properly assessed. It is essential to understand how the condition is currently impacting them and how they are likely to develop in the future.
How to create a dementia friendly home:
When creating a dementia friendly environment, there are some things that are important throughout the home:
One way to help prevent someone living with dementia from becoming confused is to make sure the house and items are clearly labelled. If they forget where things are, they will simply have to look and see what the label says.
Labels can be used both on the doors of rooms and on cupboard doors. They should be large and clear. Pictures, as well as words, can help make them easier to understand. Another option is to put photographs on a cupboard to show what is inside or have a transparent door that reveals its contents.
Older people, including those with dementia, often look down when moving about the house, placing the labels slightly below what would generally be a person's eye line.
If a person with dementia wants to navigate their home successfully, it will be much easier if they can see where they are going. This is especially important as eyesight tends to fail as a person grows older. Bright, clear lighting without shadows, glares or reflections is essential to avoid falls and other accidents, particularly in bathrooms and stairwells. It also makes it easier for the person to communicate as they will be able to see facial expressions and body language.
Natural lighting is best for minimising glare, improving colour contrasts and saving money. Keep curtains open during the day, clean windows regularly and make sure there are no trees or hedges directly outside the window where they block the sun. Too many shadows can cause confusion and distress to a person with dementia. When daylight is unavailable, an automatic sensor may enable electric lighting to switch itself on at the appropriate time.
Not only does plenty of natural light make a home safer, it can also improve the mood of the person living with dementia.
A person living with dementia may be more sensitive to excess noise, including sounds that may not bother family and care staff. For example, the running of a tap can seem intrusive because of bathroom acoustics. Vinyl and laminate floors can make footsteps sound loud, but carpet can muffle noise. Try to switch off televisions, radios and other electronic devices when not in use.
There are three things to consider when trying to minimise the noise in a building - absorption, insulation and transmission. Carpet, cushions and curtains can help noise be absorbed. Transmission is about how sound travels between different areas of the home, so it can be reduced simply by closing doors between rooms. Insulation is more about basic construction, such as the types of building material used.
Many people with dementia can find looking in the mirror stressful and confusing. If so, try to keep mirrors covered when not in use and close curtains after dark to prevent windows from becoming reflective.
Distinguishing between different colours is another area where a person with dementia may struggle. Using bold, contrasting tones will allow the person to identify doors, bannisters, floors and different items of furniture, as well as crockery, cutlery and even a toilet seat. Designs with patterns, such as spots and stripes, may be confusing and cause disorientation and should be avoided.
Older people are more unsteady on their feet as well as being more likely to have dementia. They may avoid shiny floors because they look wet or think rugs are objects that need to be stepped over, leading to tripping and falling. Keeping the floor matte and making sure it contrasts with the walls can help to avoid this.
Some everyday household items are available with adaptations designed to make life easier for those living with dementia. This may include telephones with larger buttons or a clock with a bold LCD display that consists of the day of the week and the date as well as the time.
There are also a variety of sensors, alarms and reminders that can effectively be utilised to help someone who has memory problems or is easily confused. This includes self-activating lights, alerts to remind someone to take their medication and fall detectors that they can wear. As everyone with dementia has slightly different needs, the most appropriate form of assistive technology will depend on their individual circumstances. You may want to consult with your dementia specialist first.
In addition to these more general adaptations, there are some considerations specific to some regions of the house:
Toilets and Bathrooms:
Using the bathroom safely is an important aspect in ensuring that a person with dementia can maintain their dignity and independence. However, the bathroom is also a room with a large number of potential risks, including falls, flooding, and scalds from hot water.
Start by ensuring that safety features such as handrails, non-slip mats and baths seats are available, preferably in contrasting colours (as before, avoid complex, colourful patterns). Other items, such as towels and soap, should also be easy to identify because of their colour and placement.
The shower should be accessible from the floor without needing to step up to it. A thermostat can stop water from becoming too hot if the person forgets to check the temperature. Special plugs are available to release water from the bath or sink if the tap is left running for too long. Having separate hot and cold water taps can reduce confusion.
Again, cover mirrors or reflective shower panels if they cause distress. The bathroom experience should generally aim to be as comfortable and relaxing as possible.
The bedroom should be the most comfortable room of all. Ensure the bed is clearly visible (again through the use of colour) and accessible from both sides. Raised edges can reduce the risk of falling out without being as intrusive as bed rails, which are considered restraints. An adjustable bed that can be raised and lowered like a hospital bed is much safer and more convenient.
Other furniture includes wardrobes and drawers, which may be left partially open or clearly labelled to make their contents clear. Padded chairs are both more comfortable and safer. A clear route should be left to the bathroom if the person needs to use the facilities at night. A prominent clock can help keep them connected to the time. Including many personal items, such as photographs, can make the room feel more homely and reassure the person with dementia.
Kitchen and Dining Area:
Someone living with dementia may forget to eat or lose their appetite. A well-designed kitchen and dining area can help encourage eating. This means ensuring the kitchen looks like a kitchen - make sure the oven is prominent and white goods, including the fridge and dishwasher, are not hidden behind cupboard doors. Again, photos and labelling can be used to indicate what is in cupboards. Other options include clear doors or open shelving. If food can be easily seen, it will remind and encourage the person to eat.
As with the bathroom, separate and clearly labelled taps are essential, and any mats should be non-slip. Try to avoid shiny and reflective surfaces. In general, make sure everything is visible and easy to reach.
Again, you can use contrasting colours in the dining room to make place settings, crockery and cutlery clear. Avoid fancy or unusual designs of furniture and try to avoid sharp edges on tables and chairs. Make sure there is plenty of legroom. Use heavier plates, particularly with a lip, to prevent slips and spills. Avoid plastic utensils and ensure mugs have large handles to make them easier to use.
In general, the cooking and eating experience should be made as pleasant as possible to encourage people to engage with food. This means thinking about layout and colours and factors such as cooking and baking aromas that can also define a kitchen.
Garden and Outdoor Space:
Fresh air and exercise are ideal ways to relieve stress and improve both physical and mental health. Colours and scents from flowers can provide stimulation as well as softening any brick or concrete walls. This means making the garden as accessible as possible.
Surfaces should be flat (including avoiding loose surfaces such as bark chips or pebbles), and the outside wall or fence should be secure. Paths should be broad and lead back to the entrance to the garden rather than stopping at a dead end. Raised flowerbeds are more accessible for users with mobility problems. Adequate lighting and shelter ensure the person can stay outside for as long as they want despite the weather and time of day.
If you have any further questions or concerns about making someone's home dementia friendly, please contact us at Catalyst Interiors for expert advice. We have extensive experience in designing interiors that are comfortable and stylish as well as meeting a variety of healthcare needs.