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Home environment and dementia

The way your home is designed and laid out can have a big impact on someone with dementia.

Symptoms of memory loss, confusion and difficulty learning new things means that someone with dementia may forget where they are, where things are and how things work.

If they're able to stay in their own home, the familiar objects will be reassuring, and it's not advisable to make major changes or adaptations to their homes overnight.

However, there are simple, affordable things you can do that may help them to continue living independently and safely.

Better lighting can help people with dementia

Dementia tends to affect older people, who are likely to have poorer eyesight. People with dementia can also feel disorientated in the dark, so leaving a nightlight on can help.

Most people with dementia benefit from better lighting in their home - it can help to avoid confusion and reduce the risk of falls. Using higher wattage light bulbs will boost the lighting in your home, but remember to first check the maximum level the fitting can take.

Increase natural light in a room by making sure the curtains are open and that unnecessary nets or blinds are removed. Cut back hedges or trees if they overshadow the window and block out sunlight. Lighting is particularly important on the stairs and in the toilet. Light switches should be easily accessible and straightforward to use.

Reducing excess noise may help with dementia

Reduce background noise by turning the television or radio off if nobody is paying attention to it.

Carpets, cushions and curtains improve the acoustics of a room by absorbing background noise. If you have laminate or vinyl flooring, simply walking across the room can be very noisy. If the person you care for wears a hearing aid, it will magnify these sounds and can make it uncomfortable for them.

If their hearing has deteriorated with age, make sure they get regular hearing checks and are fitted with hearing aids, if necessary.

People with dementia can have their symptoms made worse by problems with sight and hearing together (known as deafblindness or dual sensory loss). Read more about dual sensory loss from the charity Sense.

Safe flooring and dementia

If you need to replace the carpet in someone's home, choose one that's the same colour throughout the whole house, as this can be less confusing for someone with dementia.

Avoid shiny or reflective flooring, as this may be perceived as being wet, and the person with dementia may struggle to walk over it.

Try to avoid rugs or mats on the floor, as some people with dementia may become confused and think the rug or mat is an object that they need to step over, which could lead to trips or falls.

Contrasting colours may help to navigate 

Contrasting colours on the walls and floors can give the person with dementia a sense of depth and perspective in a room. Having furniture in contrasting colours can make it easier for them to find and use.

Doors and banisters painted in a different colour to the walls will make them stand out. Toilet seats that contrast in colour with the rest of the room will help the person with dementia to find the toilet. Similarly, tablecloths that are a different colour to the plates will help them to see their food better.

Bed linen, towels, soft furnishings and wallpaper should be bold colours rather than pastels, which blend together easily. Patterns should be avoided, as they can be disturbing for people with dementia. They may see faces or shapes in the patterns, which can be confusing for them.

Reflections can be troubling

If the person you care for doesn't recognise their own reflection, they may think that the face they see in the mirror or the person reflected in the window is a stranger. This can be distressing for them.

It can help to cover mirrors with a roller blind or curtain and close curtains in the evening, so they can't see their own reflection in the glass.

Labels may help someone with dementia get around

It's a good idea to label drawers, cupboards and doors to show what's inside them. For example, you could put a photo of the toilet on the toilet door, a photo of the cups on the cupboard that contains the cups, and so on.

Alternatively, transparent cupboard doors can be of great help to someone with dementia, as they can then see what's inside.

Dementia-friendly household items

It's possible to get household items that are specifically designed for people with dementia. For example, these items can include cups with two handles, clocks with large LCD displays, telephones with big buttons, devices to open jars, and so forth. There are several websites that sell daily living aids, such as the Alzheimer's Society online shop.

You may find that the person you care for prefers traditional fixtures and fittings, such as taps, a toilet flush or bath plugs. Sleek modern designs may be confusing.

Ensure that any tables are stable and have round, smooth edges. They should be at a suitable height, so that food and drink can be seen and a wheelchair can fit underneath if needed.

Gardens and outside spaces can be made to help people with dementia

Like everyone else, people with dementia may benefit from going outside to get some fresh air and exercise.

Ensure that walking surfaces are flat to prevent any trips or falls. The outdoor space should be secure, to stop the person you look after from wandering.

Raised flower beds can help people with restricted mobility actively look after their garden by doing watering, planting or weeding.

Providing sturdy, sheltered seating areas will allow the person you care for to stay outside longer. Bird feeders or tables and bat, bird or bug boxes will attract more wildlife into the garden.

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices