Functional in-home dementia design ideas
DESIGNING functional spaces in a home can help address the complex needs of people living with dementia.
In his submission for the 2019 Alzheimer's Disease International Annual Report, Associate Professor Colm Cunningham, a director of the HammondCare Dementia Centre, says being able to "see and sense" is vital as unfamiliar environments and situations within a home can cause a person to become stressed and confused.
He also emphasised familiarity as another key to managing dementia patient needs.
"Some design changes may help support the person physically while others may assist the person in understanding their environment and overcoming specific perceptual challenges," he adds.
Professor Cunningham suggests design should include:
- Kitchen - reduce clutter by clearing benches and workspaces of occasionally used items and leaving out things that are needed every day, such as tea and coffee-making items.
- Noise - reduce distracting noises from both radios and televisions.
- Calm - create a calming space where the person has favourite and familiar items and to which they can retreat if feeling tired or overwhelmed.
- Lights - adjust light levels, remembering that people with dementia and older people generally benefit from more light.
- Signs - use signs and cues that reduce confusion or uncertainty such as in the kitchen; pictures work well as the ability to read words may be lost.
- Colour - Introduce contrasting colours where needed as they can help people to understand the room and situation to find their way.
"For example, having contrasting bed linen so the bed is more obvious and a different colour top and bottom sheet that contrast to the floor makes finding and
getting into bed easier and can be the difference between needing assistance and getting into bed independently," Professor Cunningham suggests.
- Flooring - Pick a smooth, matte surface and ensure the same flooring is across as many rooms as possible. In kitchens and other wet areas, opt for a surface that is not shiny and reflective as this may look like water on the floor and a person with dementia may wisely refuse to enter. Between rooms, make the carpet bar or strip the same colour as the flooring. This can also reduce the risk of falls and prevent perceptual confusion.
He used the fascinating case study of Rosemary and her father David to reinforce the value of his recommendations.
"When supporting her dad David's bathroom independence, Rosemary noticed he had been having some toileting difficulties recently and often seemed quite distressed afterwards," Professor Cunningham wrote. "Rosemary thought David may have been unwell, but then noticed when assisting him to the newly renovated, all white bathroom, he was unsure about locating the toilet.
"Later, he fumbled with the new modern tap fitting at the basin and left without washing his hands - unusual for David as he was fastidious about hygiene.
"When discussing this with a support person, Rosemary learned that greater contrast benefits older eyes and people with dementia, and that the shiny mixer tap would be unfamiliar to her dad.
"A new black toilet seat and easy to understand tap seem to have addressed most of David's difficulties and distress."