How to Create a Dementia-Friendly Environment

You may have heard the term ‘dementia-friendly’ on the news lately, or you may have even seen a ‘dementia-friendly’ sticker stuck on the back of a police car. That’s because attitudes and approaches towards individuals with dementia are changing for the better; society is now more clued-in on how to converse and connect with dementia patients. The healthcare sector is evolving even further to facilitate their needs, and this can be seen in care environments that have started becoming dementia-friendly.

But the question is, how do you create a dementia-friendly environment?

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The Building

One of the biggest things to consider when creating a dementia-friendly environment is the building itself. Ideally, there is good visibility so that the residents can see where staff or carers are, and they can see outside. It’s particularly beneficial to get as much natural lighting as possible, as this will increase visibility and minimise confusion and accidents for individuals who may have significantly reduced vision. It also helps residents to understand what time of day it is.

Structurally, there are a few things to be considered when it comes to those with dementia. Any dead-end paths or corridors can be very frustrating, there should be a safe outdoor space for everyone (including families and visitors) to sit out and enjoy. Preferably, there will be a transitional layout that clearly demarcates between private spaces like bedrooms, and public areas like the reception or dining hall.

Noise can be quite distressing to people with dementia, so it’s important that the premises are in a peaceful area with very little external noise. Using sound absorbing panels would be another way to decrease noise within the building itself. Residents may find it distressing or confusing if they can hear conversations in other rooms, especially whilst they’re trying to relax or sleep.

Décor

An increase in dementia studies over the past decade has provided a wealth of insight into how the aesthetics of the environment can affect the individual. For example, busy patterns and dull colours have proven to cause misperceptions in surface and depth. It’s important to avoid patterns on patterns, and instead go for plain colours. Having stark contrast between surfaces is also a good thing to keep in mind, as this will allow the individual to see more clearly between different levels and objects.

Shiny/reflective items can also cause confusion because they are difficult to see. Sparkly fabrics or floor coverings can be particularly difficult to navigate because the individual cannot clearly the floor that they want to walk on. It may also lead the resident to believe that the floor is slippery or wet.

Having nostalgic décor may help to make the individual feel more relaxed and at home. This subconscious familiarity with trends and décor from 50 or 60 years ago can make the resident feel more comfortable simply because it is familiar, unlike contemporary looks.

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Signposting and Colour-Coding

It is widely encouraged that rooms be clearly signposted to avoid unnecessary confusion and stress. Shared bathrooms are one of the most important rooms to signpost, and will help to avoid any possible accidents. Any other corridor or room signage should be at eye-level so that the individual can see it immediately. Pictures alongside words can be useful for providing extra clarity.

There should also be signage on the various items within the bathroom; the users should be able to understand the function of each component with ease. From the soap dispenser to the taps, easy-to-read signs on these will help to reduce confusion and anxiety.

Having specifically recognisable pictures or things on residents’ bedroom doors can also help them to differentiate between each person’s room.

Colour-coding elements of the room has also shown to be an effective way to help individuals with dementia. The colour red is a particularly effective hue for making things stand out as important. Having a red toilet seat can be beneficial for helping the resident find where the loo is in the room. Red could also be used for place-settings at the dining table; having a red placemat will indicate to the user that that is a place to sit, and they will clearly see the outline of their plate and cutlery.

Blue and green palettes connote a calming, peaceful effect and are most-suited to spaces like the bedroom. Red is good for drawing the eye, and should be used to highlight important features and functions.

Active Environments

One of the main focuses from recent dementia studies has been on encouraging active participants and spaces. This means that residents are subtly urged to participate in day-to-day life and take part in activities that will stimulate their mind and body. A dementia-friendly environment will reflect this by having open communal areas with social seating and things that will allow individuals to pursue their hobbies and interests. Whether it’s jigsaws, knitting, or even a vegetable patch, including these things can make a world of difference and improve residents’ quality of life.

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Creating a dementia-friendly environment may seem like a daunting task, but it’s not as difficult as you may think it is. Whether it’s a new building, or a conversion of an existing care environment, dementia-friendliness can be achieved simply by adopting a few key changes. This will help to improve the residents’ quality of life, and it can help to stimulate the memory and possibly even slow down any further mental deterioration.