Designing for dementia: 6 helpful tips

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The Hong Kong Alzheimer's Disease Association reports that one in 10 Hongkongers over 65 suffers from dementia, most commonly found in the form of Alzheimer's disease. Along with the presumed and obvious difficulties in dealing with a dementia patient, a huge issue is often the unknown. Even if you live with the family member or friend in question, there will undoubtedly be times when you simply cannot be present to assist with daily activities. Additionally, and depending on the progression of their disease, they may not want company 24/7. One of the hardest things about having a family member or friend with dementia is the worry associated with their safety while they are at home.

The design of a dementia-friendly environment is an extremely important one, both for the individual residing in the home, as well as the family or people who take care of the dementia sufferer. There are numerous changes one can make to a dwelling in order to create a safe place that is both familial and comfortable. Design aspects such as colour, fixtures and fittings, furniture, lighting and surfaces are all crucial to the overall success of a dementia-friendly home environment, and as many should be employed as possible.

We have collated a series of essential tips for designing a dementia-friendly dwelling, with some stylishly inspirational images attached. If you are preparing or renovating a space for a dementia sufferer, read this first and design the interior spaces correctly and efficiently.

Colour

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Colour has a huge impact on an individual's psyche. From creating a social space that enhances conversation to an inspiring room that jogs memory and evokes creativity there are numerous colours that create different responses. 

In dementia patients it is essential you create a space that is friendly and helpful to their specific needs. As dementia is seen mostly in an older population, it is highly possible you will also need to consider sight issues such as colour-blindness, cataracts, macular degeneration, and other retinal conditions.  

Do: remember that blurred vision is common in older individuals and rooms should have certain bright elements that can be easily distinguished by those with sight problems. Dementia in particular can cause impaired depth perception, spatial disorientation, altered colour perception and a reduced ability to perceive contrast in different objects. For this reason it is a good idea to choose only a few colours and punctuate the room with bright and obvious contrasting hues. Pick bright colours such as yellow, and remember to let the occupant personalise their space to ensure ownership over the dwelling. 

Don't: create a monochromatic space. Utilising neutral hues will create issues with perception and depth. Remember that older people require approximately three times as much contrast as younger individuals to recognise and find items within the home. If you are in doubt about the colour scheme in the house don't guess! Contact a professional and get some expert advice. 

Furniture and finishes

When it comes to choosing furniture and finishes you need to look at the way in which the occupant uses the home. One of the most important things to consider is wayfinding. Wayfinding is the method in which the individual moves through their home. Generally, there are repetitive motions to the way a person travels within their dwelling, and this is usually matched against routine and familiarity of the home. In order to make the dementia patient feel comfortable, you need to create an environment that is familiar to their history, culture and background. 

Do: choose furniture, fittings and fixtures that look familiar and are comfortable. When decorating a room it is a good idea to choose pieces and ornamentation that have a history with the occupant. Items such as clocks, vases or wall art can help dementia patients orient themselves in the home. 

Don't: forget to include items that have history and familiarity to the occupant. If everything in the room is new, a dementia patient will have trouble understanding where they are.

Lighting and illumination

Lighting has one of the greatest impacts on care within the home. If lighting isn't sufficient it is difficult for the occupant to stay independent. Lighting doesn't necessarily mean lamps and bulbs, but instead it can also represent natural illumination. Sunlight helps provide vitamin D, and aids calcium absorption. If a room is dark or poorly lit it can lead to a higher incidence of falls and trips in the home; as well as an inability to carry out daily activities. 

Do: include as many sources of natural light as possible. When the room is not serviced by natural illumination and during the night time the space should have bright lights in all spaces. 

Don't: ignore corners and nooks that you may believe do not need to be well-lit. All spaces should be able to be illuminated as this will help the dementia patient to feel in control of the room, and assist with everyday tasks. 

Surfaces and flooring

Surfaces and flooring help the dementia patient move around their home comfortable and easily. If the flooring is unsuitable it will require immediate replacement. Hard surfaces work best as these are easy to clean and last longer, but conversely can hurt during a fall. Softer surfaces such as carpet can work well too, adding warmth to the dwelling, while still accommodating wheelchairs and mobility devices. 

Do: consider a tough, resilient and fire resistant carpet for comfort and practicality. 

Don't: choose a flooring or surface that is slippery as this will add to the danger of falls within the home.

Fittings and fixtures

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Recycled industrial towel rail [Standard]

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Fittings and fixtures can add safety and comfort within the home. These fittings contribute to aforementioned wayfinding within the abode and assist in the versatility of the dwelling. 

Do: add handles grab rails, an accessible toilet, and reinforced fittings that can be held for support if necessary. Rails are particularly important in the bathroom and bedroom, as bathtubs and beds can be the most common reason for falls and accidents in a dementia house. 

Don't: neglect the importance of fittings within the home. Investing in quality fixtures and fittings will ensure the dwelling is functional and enjoyable for the resident to use. 

Some other helpful tips

Some additional tips to consider when decorating and designing a dementia-friendly environment may include: 

• Considering handles instead of doorknobs, as these are far easier to grip, especially for those with tremors of reduced muscle strength. 

• When picking flooring look for a low-gloss design that will reduce glare. Glare can make it tricky to carry out daily activities for those with vision impairment issues. 

• Walls can be repainted to contrast flooring and create an easily recognisable space. 

• Look at replacing furniture and chairs that are difficult to get out of with accessible alternatives. 

• Colourful cushions placed on sofas can help dementia patients remember their favourite chair and where they spend their time. 

We hope this article provided you with some handy hints to create a dementia-friendly environment. If you would like some more interior inspiration, check out Illuminating ideas for the perfect living room ambience

Do you know a friend or family member that lives with dementia? If you have any additional advice for our homify community leave a comment below!
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