3 Ways Good Design Can Help People Who Have Dementia

The design of the environment we live in has a profound impact on our mood and wellbeing, especially for people living with dementia. In this post, we’ll look at some ways that good design can make an impact, from the use of colors and lighting, to making it easy to perform daily tasks, helping you to plan a suitable environment for your loved one, or to identify a care home designed for the needs of people with dementia.

Good use of color

Color choices play an important part in ensuring people with dementia can navigate their surroundings, identify familiar places and affect their mood. Firstly, contrasting colors can be used on furniture, fittings and fixtures to help people navigate and interact with their surroundings. For example, using a light switch that contrasts in color to the wall it’s on can make it easier to identify, avoiding confusion. Similarly, utilizing handrails that contrast to the walls their mounted on makes them easier to find, encouraging people with dementia to explore their surroundings without fear of getting ‘stuck’. Ensuring furniture is a different color to the floor also makes it easier for people to negotiate the room without fear of tripping up, while also making it easier to identify where they are and find their way around.

Using different color doors is another good way to help people with dementia identify different rooms. For example, painting bathroom doors a different color to other doors can help people identify what’s inside them. Colored doors are also used in care homes for residents’ rooms, helping to make them more recognizable and making it less likely for residents with dementia to get lost and enter other people’s rooms accidentally.

Before painting any walls or changing fixtures and furniture, it’s important to remember that color can affect mood. Be aware of any preferences that your loved one may have, for example if they have eye conditions, yellow, orange and red can be easier to see. Others may prefer darker colors like black or dark blue against light backgrounds.

Using lighting correctly

If lighting is not used correctly, it can make it harder to identify objects, create shadows, and change perceptions of the passing of time, all of which can cause confusion and distress for people with dementia.

Natural light is the first important consideration. Not only does natural light provide higher levels of diffused light, which creates soft, unnoticeable shadows, it also helps to show the passing of time as the light source changes throughout the day, making it easier to stick to natural sleeping patterns.

Artificial lighting also plays a part as it can help compensate for poor eyesight, helping people find their way around their home. For example, additional artificial lighting can be used to make it clear that corridors and pathways around rooms are clear and unobstructed, avoiding confusing shadows. The position of lighting needs to be considered, for example to avoid bright light directly over beds, which can make it difficult for people to rest. The choice of lampshade is also important, as these can be used to create diffused light, reducing shadows and creating a uniform level of brightness around a room.

Make it easy to perform day to day tasks

Interior design also plays a part in making day to day tasks easier to perform for those with dementia. Lighting can again play a part here, for example by illuminating the insides of drawers and cupboards when they are open, making it easier to find things.

People with dementia can also struggle to remember where things are kept, for example in the kitchen. A solution is to use transparent cupboard doors allowing the contents to be seen, or use labels to mark what’s inside. Pictures or icons are a good idea, as it can be easier to remember the look of an item than its name.

Icons and signs are also a great way to direct people to certain rooms. For example, signs leading to the bathroom may include pictures or icons representing a shower, toilet and washbasin, to remind users what the bathroom contains. Meanwhile, the dining room door could feature an icon of a knife and fork to represent eating, providing a visual clue to what can be done in this room.

In conclusion

If you’re making changes to someone’s living space or finding a new home for them, it’s important to remember that everyone has different abilities and needs which can change over time. It’s important to take a person-centric approach as a result, ensuring your loved one continues to be able to make their own choices and uphold their dignity.

About the author

Seb Atkinson works for Hallmark Care Homes, a leading provider of dementia care.

  • Marsha Keeffer

    These design features are a plus for elders with dementia. Textures, color, light and even fragrance and sound are impactful. I look forward to seeing American facilities become more like those giving dementia care in Europe.

  • Huma Abro
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