Dementia is one of the most common conditions experienced by people living in care homes, so ensuring that the care home environment is designed to meet their often complex needs is essential. A truly dementia-friendly care home will be full of practical features to make residents safer, more comfortable and better able to cope with this frequently distressing condition.
Features for creating dementia friendly care homes should make space both more welcoming and more secure, doing so without sacrificing comfort and style. They should also allow for residents' individual needs and preferences, who may have different symptoms or access requirements. Security features should be the least restrictive possible whilst still ensuring safety. There should be private and quiet areas available and social spaces where residents can interact with each other and take part in activities such as games and crafts.
How to make a care home dementia friendly?
People with dementia living in care homes may be at increased risk of falls, burns and other accidents, both because of their dementia and how this interacts with other symptoms of ageing such as reduced mobility and poor eyesight. Things like good lighting, clear labelling and strategic use of colour can make a space more straightforward and safer to navigate. There is also a range of specialist safety features that may be available for your care home.
These potential safety measures may include non-slip floors, temperature controls to regulate water, taps that stop automatically to prevent flooding, window restrictors that stop them from being opened too widely and curtains or blinds that cannot be pulled down easily. Handrails may be situated at appropriate points. You can also take steps to remove potential hazards, such as furniture that blocks pathways. Any dangerous chemicals should be stored well out of reach and locked away securely.
Just because a care home needs to be safe and practical does not mean neglecting aesthetic considerations. Any resident will be more comfortable living somewhere cosy and relaxing. For many people with dementia, it is easier to recall the distant past than more recent events. That means they may appreciate more nostalgic styles without too many modern fixtures and fittings.
There should also be plenty of personal touches to make someone feel more at home. This may include paintings or photographs as well as ornaments, cushions or even perfumes and other scents. Just make sure that you avoid any patterns or styles that are too busy, as these can cause confusion and distress. Plain, contrasting colours in matt tones are the easiest to navigate.
Lighting plays a prominent role in safety and comfort by ensuring a room is welcoming and well lit. Critical areas such as the route to the bathroom, plus the toilet and sink, should be particularly highlighted, as should more dangerous areas such as the stairs. Lighting in bedrooms should not be so bright that it prevents relaxation. People with dementia can find shadows confusing, so situate lights to avoid them. It would be best if you also covered windows at night to prevent potentially distressing reflections. Motion sensors can be used to ensure lights switch on and off at appropriate times, as long as the timer is set to make sure they do not suddenly switch off before the person has returned to bed. Light switches should be a contrasting colour to the surrounding wall and easy to find.
Some people with dementia are particularly sensitive to loud noises. Sound resistant materials can be used in some rooms, and any alarms should not be too prolonged or intrusive. People should have control over the sounds in their environment, such as radios or televisions, wherever possible. In the case of differing access needs, there needs to be space for these kinds of noise and other areas set aside to be quiet, depending on what makes residents most comfortable.
Clocks can be used to help a person with dementia feel more orientated in time. They should have a large, clear face and hands. For many people with dementia, a traditional analogue clock may be more familiar and comforting than a more modern digital version.
Toilets and bathrooms should be clearly signposted, with doors of contrasting colours with helpful labels or pictures. Essential features of the bathroom, such as the toilet seat and handrail, should also be in contrasting colours. Flush handles and taps should be traditional, recognisable designs. Hot and cold taps should be separate and clearly labelled. Paths to bathrooms should be kept clear and well-lit at night. The shower should be accessible from ground level without stepping, and in some cases, a shower seat may be appropriate. Any mirrors should be out of direct view or easily covered, as reflections can cause distress to some people with dementia.
Bedrooms should be appropriately lit, with effective curtains or blinds at night. The bed should be easy to access from all sides. An adjustable bed, such as in a hospital that can be raised and lowered, may better suit people with mobility issues. Other furniture should not block entryways and, where possible, should have rounded edges. Wardrobes and drawers should either be labelled or have transparent fronts to make their contents obvious.
The bedroom should have plenty of personal touches, including photographs, blankets, or even a hairbrush. Avoid confusing patterns and use traditional designs wherever possible. Again, mirrors should be able to be covered if they cause distress or disorientation. This should be the cosiest, safest-feeling part of the building.
Residents should have easy access to food and drink at all times. Dining spaces should be a comfortable size, but there should be space around dining room furniture to ensure residents with mobility issues can manoeuvre and support staff can easily access them to provide help if necessary. Cutlery and crockery should be easy-to-use and straightforward designs as well as a contrasting colour to the table. Specially adapted cutlery and crockery are available to reduce spillages. Avoid patterned tablecloths, or too many ornaments or condiments on the table that could be confusing or distracting.
Passageways, lifts and stairs
Passageways should have regular points where it is possible to sit and rest. Any handrails should be a contrasting colour to the wall to make them easy to find. Colour contrast can also be used to distinguish one step from another and reduce the risk of tripping. Lifts should have large and clearly labelled buttons.
Doors and signage
Doors should be a contrasting colour to the surrounding wall so they can be clearly seen. Bold labels with pictures can be used to avoid confusion. Transparent panels in cupboard doors can make the contents easily visible and reduce confusion further. Avoid blocking doorways with furniture or other objects. Entrance to staff-only areas can be concealed by using muted colours that blend with their surroundings.
Floors that feature patterns may confuse people with dementia by making them think there are objects in their way that they need to either pick up or walk around, which can increase the risk of trips or falls. Shiny, reflective surfaces may appear wet and also cause distress. Therefore, floors should be single colours with a matt texture. Nonslip floors can be vital, especially in bathrooms and kitchens. Vinyl is easier to clean and maintain than carpet.
Being able to spend time outside is a valuable way to increase physical activity and improve mood and mental health. This means making the space around your care home easily accessible. Paths should be as flat as possible, without gravel or other uneven materials. A circular path that leads directly back to the door is better than one that ends abruptly, which may cause confusion and make it challenging to find the way back. Regular seating areas, preferably in sheltered spaces, also make the area more accessible to those with mobility issues. The outside space should also have points of interest to make it more engaging for residents. This may include raised flowerbeds that are easier to access.
Again, try to avoid designs that invite shadows. Try to prevent any trees or bushes from blocking windows and preventing natural light from entering the buildings. Ensure paths are kept clear and do not become overgrown. Make sure that fences or outer walls are secure so residents cannot accidentally wander away.
If you want to ensure the best quality of life for your residents and to make sure that your care home is a home rather than just a place to live, then Catalyst Interiors can help. We are leading experts in designing care homes and other facilities for people with dementia. Our years of experience allow us to offer advice and support at every stage of the process, from the initial planning to choosing fixtures and fittings to the final decorative touches. We design and fit out the care homes that are functional and efficient and offer style and comfort to both residents and staff, ensuring a less stressful and more relaxing environment.