Dementia is a challenging condition that can cause significant distress for both the person living with dementia and their loved ones. Anything that can ease some of those difficulties is likely to be welcome, and one way to improve the quality of life for people with dementia is to ensure their home is designed with their health needs in mind.
This means incorporating practical solutions to the problems faced by people with dementia with décor that is still attractive and welcoming. Home design for a person with dementia does not have to sacrifice style in the name of utility. Instead, it can be used to create a warm, inviting environment where the person can feel both comfortable and safe.
A properly decorated home can improve someone's mental and emotional well-being as well as protecting their physical health. This means interiors that reduce the isolation and confusion often experienced by people with dementia. Even just ensuring that the home is adequately lit can make a huge difference. A dementia-friendly home can be made easier to navigate with just a few simple steps.
Some of the most basic factors to consider when designing a dementia-friendly home are colour and materials. You can then apply these considerations to surfaces, including floors and walls, together with items that are found throughout the home. True dementia-friendly décor incorporates every part of the building to ensure a complete environment where the person is both safe and happy, whilst taking into account individual needs and personal taste.
What are dementia friendly colours?
As people grow older, their eyesight may start to fade, and colours become muted or blend together. For many people with dementia, this combines with the issues caused by their condition to further cloud their perception of the world around them. This, in turn, can lead to increased confusion and difficulty navigating a once familiar home.
One of the most critical factors affecting sight and perception is colour. In particular, the use of contrast between different shades can be used to help direct a person with dementia either towards or away from certain parts of the house. Poorly chosen colours can increase confusion and even cause distress. Some colours, such as blue, green and purple, may also become hard to differentiate because of the way in which the lens of the eye naturally thickens as we grow older.
Contrasting colours can be used to clarify a room. They can make items of furniture distinct from the floor, walls, and ceiling and separate these elements from each other. This can make it easier to find, for example, a table, and then to look at the table and see where the cutlery and crockery can be found. In the bathroom, it can be used to distinguish the toilet and sink as well as towels and toiletries. It can also ensure stairs are well defined. Small but important features, such as light switches, can be made more obvious.
The floor is one place where it is imperative to choose shades carefully. Too many patterns or contrasts can lead a person with dementia to think the floor is uneven. They may try stepping over an obstacle that does not exist, which increases the risk of falling. Solid blocks of colour are much safer.
Colour can also be used to redirect a person with dementia away from a particular place or object. If there is a door that is unsafe to go through, such as the one that leads outside, then you can make it a duller hue that fades next to the brighter colours around it. You may also need to use signs or pictures as labels offering additional guidance.
It is not just the physical space that is impacted by colour. The mood of people passing through, including the person living with dementia, will also be affected. Choose shades that they prefer and consider how colour can affect the wider atmosphere. For example, blue and green are generally regarded as calming colours. Red, orange and yellow are more stimulating and may encourage brain activity.
Dementia friendly wallpaper
Recommendations for dementia-friendly wallpaper often involve the use of nostalgic murals to recreate happy memories and experiences from youth. They can also make a space look homelier and less clinical. Research suggests, however, that busy wallpaper may actually cause confusion and distress. Block colours are not just more calming, but they are safer. Patterned wallpaper may cause disorientation that makes the person with dementia feel unsteady.
Much of the advice about dementia-friendly colour schemes are relevant to the choice of wallpaper. Make sure colours are bright and distinct from the floor, ceiling and any furnishings. Colours such as blue and green can be used if you want a room to be calm and relaxing, whilst warming colours may be more stimulating in social and active areas. Clear signage can be used, possibly with images, to help the individual navigate between rooms.
Dementia friendly flooring
People with dementia are at increased risk of trips, slips and falls, especially as they get older and their physical health declines. This means that the choice of flooring is another essential part of making a home dementia friendly. Again, you need to consider the perception of the person with dementia as well as the practical and aesthetic impact of the floor when making your decision.
As we previously discussed, different patterns and textures can create confusion in a person with dementia. In the case of flooring, this could make a rug or fancy carpet appear to be an object that needs to be stepped over or picked up. Darker surfaces may be perceived as holes to be avoided, whilst shiny, reflective surfaces can appear wet and slippery. Whatever form the pattern takes, it increases the risk of the person with dementia losing their balance.
One area of particular risk is the stairs, where the dangers of falling are obviously greater. A stair carpet that is the same colour or pattern all the way downs risks the steps blending together through the eyes of the person with dementia, so they do not realise they need to adjust to the changing height. Different colours on the tread and the risers may avoid this (you could just use a strip of paint or coloured tape), but you can also alleviate some of the risk through safety features such as handrails.
In the kitchen and particularly the bathroom, one of the primary considerations has to be how to deal with spills and wetness. Even a splash from a cup of tea can make a floor dangerous, and in some circumstances these rooms may even have to deal with flooding. That means spending a little extra to create a safer floor is a must. Any mats in these areas must be non-slip. Use colour to highlight the toilet, sink, and any cupboards and create colour contrasts between the floor and the walls.
Considerations that can be applied to the floor throughout the home include contrasting colours for skirting or steps between rooms to ensure they can be clearly distinguished and ensure all floor surfaces are matt to avoid shiny floor appearing wet. Avoid rugs and patterns where possible, and use non-slip mats in areas that are likely to get damp. Keep floorspace clear wherever possible, including avoiding unnecessary furniture or items that may be trip hazards and concealing cables and wires whenever possible: the flatter and more open the floor, the better.
The choice of material used for the floor can have implications for cleanliness and hygiene, as some surfaces are clearly easier to clean and maintain than others. Some flooring can be noise absorbent, which will change the acoustics of the room and potentially reduce the risk of distress caused by noise sensitivity.
It is also not just about the floor itself but ensuring that the person with dementia is correctly equipped to deal with it. For example, good quality lighting will make the floor and wall edges clearer and prevent dangerous, confusing shadows from being created. Safety also means having appropriate, comfortable footwear. A good slipper should support the ankle and have a proper grip on the soles. Slippers that do not fit properly are common contributors to falls, even when the flooring is relatively safe.
If you bear these factors in mind, it will be much easier to design a home that suits a person with dementia's needs whilst still being an attractive place to live, thereby improving their physical and mental well-being. If you need more advice as to how to achieve dementia friendly décor, please speak to some of our experts here at Catalyst Interiors. We can offer experienced, professional guidance on making a home - whether an individual house or a group residence - dementia friendly, all in a way that incorporates individual needs.
Catalyst has spent decades becoming the leading specialist in the UK when it comes to designing interiors for healthcare settings. Our solutions are warm, welcoming and stylish and incorporate all the practical considerations necessary to ensure a person with dementia can be safe in their home environment.