People with dementia often experience the world differently, yet, simple changes to the home environment can make a big difference. Here, Alison Hughes, Interiors Director at Coast Road Furniture, offers some tips on making your home more dementia friendly.
According to the NHS, there are 850,000 people living in the UK who suffer from dementia; and this number is on the rise due to people living longer year on year. In fact, the condition currently affects 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 in the UK, and 1 in 6 people who are over the age of 80.
A variety of factors come into play when caring for someone with dementia, but there are some key areas you can address in the home itself. Furthermore, making changes to the home environment can help a person with dementia to remain independent and maintain their dignity. Here, I’ll go through some of the changes you can make to the home, to give dementia sufferers a comfortable place to live.
Lots of natural light
Natural light can be a great benefit to people with dementia. This is partly because more light of any sort allows people to see better. People with dementia are more prone to falls, so by making spaces lighter, your loved one will see their way better and be steadier on their feet.
However, this isn’t the only benefit. Being able to see their environment clearly also helps those with dementia identify objects, signs, and people, making it easier for them to navigate their environment and feel comfortable in it. In their article Good lighting and dementia care, the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) also says that natural light is useful because it promotes vitamin D production, and helps regulate mood and sleep cycles, all of which are important for dementia sufferers.
Specialist furniture for mobility
People with dementia might also need some extra help in the form of accessible and suitable furniture. Typically, people struggle with balance and mobility, so one of the best things you can do to make them more comfortable, is to invest in furniture that is comfortable and sturdy.
When trying to create a more dementia-friendly home, think about the following. Chairs with high backs and substantial arms can be great, as they help support the lower back and shoulders, as well as giving people something to hold onto when getting up and sitting down. Chairs that have tilt and lift reclining features can help with standing and sitting, and many include systems where the user can control them via a remote. This gives them the opportunity to be in control of their surroundings, and grants more independence and freedom to move.
Is there help available? Disabled Facilities Grants are designed to help meet the cost of adapting a home for the needs of a disabled person, including people with dementia.
According to the SCIE, noise levels can have a significant impact on people living with dementia. An environment with a lot of noise can easily be very disorientating to those suffering with the condition.
There are some noise disturbances that you can’t mitigate very much — bathrooms frequently have loud acoustics, which can turn the sound of a flushing toilet or a tap running into much louder noises. But there are some things you can do. Reduce noise levels by careful design, using noise absorbing materials, and thoughtful use of decor and furnishings. Think carpets instead of laminate flooring. Soft furnishings such as carpeting, cushions, curtains and textured wall hangings absorb noise and so can improve the acoustics. Acoustic ceiling tiles are also an option.
Avoid reflections around the home
Minimising reflective surfaces can make it much easier for your loved one to concentrate on their surrounding environment, without the confusing experience of seeing themselves.
It can be disorientating for people with dementia to see themselves in the mirror. This is because sometimes they might have difficulty recognising themselves, and this can be very emotionally taxing. The easiest way to combat this is to remove mirrors. Similarly, it may help to close the curtains at night so they don’t see reflections of themselves in the glass.
Contrasting colours in your décor
It’s important to remember that those with dementia may have trouble picking out different features from their environment, and discerning the use for different objects. By having things painted in contrasting colours, or having kitchen counters a different colour to the cupboards, you can make it easier for them to pick out the visual signals that they need.
Don’t make the environment too overwhelming with patterns for example. Simply make use of contrasting colours so that objects can be more easily identified. For example, colour grab rails in the bathroom, coloured covers on light switches to make them stand out.
Use labels to make the home more dementia-friendly
This is an easy, simple way to make things much easier for everyone with dementia. Labelling kitchen cupboards with their contents, and labelling rooms with ‘lounge’, ‘kitchen’, ‘hallway’ and ‘bedroom’ can go a long way to helping people navigate their surroundings. It can also help them feel more comfortable, as they can always look around for a label if they are unsure of where to go.
You should make sure that labels are printed in a large, clear typeface so that those who are more visually impaired can also read them easily. You could also give non-verbal indicators around the home, such as taking the doors off cupboards and wardrobes so their purpose is obvious at a glance. All these clues will make it easier for those suffering with dementia to find their way around and be more independent.
With World Alzheimer’s Month happening this month (and lasting until the 30th September) why not look at the changes you can make to your loved one’s home and how you can help create a more dementia-friendly environment for them.
Living with Dementia can be a challenge, but there are services available to help. Visit our dedicated page, Living with Dementia, for further information. We also have a number of blog posts about caring for someone with dementia, including tips on supporting a person with dementia to walk , advice on how to start a conversation about dementia, and what to do when a loved one is first diagnosed.