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Create a dementia-friendly environment

3.15 Create a dementia-friendly environment

A few key changes in the home will support people with dementia to function better

Whether your person have been in their home for many years or moved to a new one, there are things you can do to make the home both age friendly and dementia friendly. There has been a lot of research in recent years that indicate that a few key changes in the home will support people with dementia function better. Most of these are quite simple.


Improve the lighting

As we age our eyes let in less light. The older eye receives about half the light of younger eye. The older eye copes less well with glare and reacts more slowly to changes in light levels, such as stepping indoors from a bright day outdoors. Poor lighting and sudden changes in light levels make us more at risk of falls.

Simply increasing the lumens in your light globes, having clean windows and opening blinds or curtains to let in non-glare light helps people with dementia see more clearly inside the home. Having good even, non-glary light indoors helps the eye to adjust with transition from outside to inside and improves the ability to ‘see’ items (think of the difficultly looking in a dark pantry to find the dinner ingredients).

A good rule of thumb is that lighting in the home should be almost uncomfortably bright for the 20-year-old grandchildren.

Consider using ‘stick on’ battery operated lights in the pantry or wardrobe and using night lights to illuminate the way to the toilet at night.


Use colour contrast to highlight what is needed

Often the brain of a person with dementia has difficulty ‘seeing’ an object as distinct from its background. White clothes laid out on a white bedsheet or white towels against a white bathroom wall are literally camouflaged!

Consider what your person seems to have difficulty finding or seeing. Cutlery on a pale grey placement is harder to see than a contrasting placement, seeing where the edge of a chair seat is against the floor is more difficult if they are of the same or similar colours, a white toilet seat on a white toilet in a white bathroom makes it harder to see and so on.

Using colour contrast can help people with dementia see items more easily. A coloured toilet seat or contrast strips on stair edges give more visual information.

Talk to an occupational therapist to help you make small changes in the home to help with your person’s daily function.


Keep floors clear of clutter, avoid patterns and dramatic colour changes

People with dementia are at a greater risk of falling than people without dementia of the same age. Interpreting visual information from the eyes is harder for people with dementia. One frequent problem is interpreting colour change on floors. Dark colours recede, or look further away, and light colours appear closer. Dark mats can appear to be holes or steps downwards. Glare from sunlight on shiny floors can temporarily blind the person. Swirly carpets patterns can upset the balance. These tricks of the eye can cause people to stumble or fall.

Keeping floor surfaces clear by removing clutter, and making sure they are a consistent matte colour or tone will help with confidence in moving around and help prevent falls.

Further information on preventing falls can be found at Stop Falls at Home and you can do a self-assessment on the website.


Keep appliances and fittings familiar

Azra and Burak updated their bathroom and kitchen. They chose modern taps and an integrated fridge and dishwasher – ones with doors that looked like the other kitchen cupboards. Now over five years later Azra commented that Burak is finding the taps almost impossible to work and has to open half a dozen cupboards to find the fridge.

When replacing items, find those that look and feel familiar. For example, ‘old fashioned’ cross hatch taps are easier to recognise and operate than a modern flick mixer tap.


More ideas

A comprehensive interactive website at Dementia Enabling Environments provides many simple ideas for each room in the house that will help.


Occupational therapists

Consider consulting an occupational therapist before making home modifications to choose fixtures and fitting that will support the person, and you, to function more effectively in the home. Learn more about how occupational therapists help older people.

You can search for an occupational therapist in your area.


Important actions

  • Visit Dementia Enabling Environments for simple ideas for each room in the house that will help.
  • Ask your person’s doctor for a referral to an occupational therapist.
  • Write down some of the strategies and try them at home.