While learning that a family member or friend has received a diagnosis of dementia can be shocking, there is much that can be done to help people and their families live well with dementia.
Many dementia symptoms have the potential to significantly reduce the safety of someone with the condition as they are likely to suffer from sensory, cognitive or physical impairment. People living with dementia require their home environment to be safe, secure and easy to navigate. An environment that is well set up, keeping in mind the following points, can help maintain their abilities and provide meaningful engagement.
Being Safe: People with dementia need to feel safe and confident in their own home, especially if they live alone. Installing grab rails, alarms and sensors such as smoke detectors, electric socket covers provide a good start. Lock away any sharp items and potentially hazardous things around the house. Make sure electric items are switched off when not in use.
Navigation and Signage: People with dementia use signs and certain landmarks to navigate their way around. Sign boards and labels around the home should be placed at eye level, clear, in bold face with good contrast between text and background as well as the surface it is placed on – which could be the doors, walls, containers or cabinets. Preferably, the sign should also carry an icon or image of what the sign represents. For example, put a sign with a picture of a toilet and the word ‘toilet’ on the door at a height where you can see it easily.
Contrasting Colors: Dementia affects the way people look at colors and objects. It is recommended to use bright contrasting colors for different pieces of items placed near each other to distinguish them more easily. Avoid strips and strong patterns as these tend to be confusing and disorienting. Switches, walls, floors, stairs – all should have contrasting colors. Toilet seats should be different colors to the rest of the bathroom – same for railings, toilet rolls, towels and switches. Use colored crockery that contrasts with the food, as well as the table or tablecloth.
Lighting: Poor vision can make a person with dementia not know where they are, therefore would need a lot more light. Ensure the home is well- lit especially for dark areas and shadows on the floor. Curtains or blinds should not block natural light from the window. As dementia progresses, mirrors should be avoided as people with dementia may not recognize their reflection in a mirror. Reflections can be very confusing for a person with Dementia.
Noise Control: Noise and distractions can make concentration difficult for a person with dementia – it leaves them anxious and confused. When this happens, get to a quiet place to rest, recover and aim to continue if possible. Reduce background noises and always switch off the TV when it is not in use.
Keep things organized: Clutter around the home can be confusing for a person with dementia. By de-cluttering and keeping things tidy, one can easily find what they need. Arrange a visible place for important papers or items that would be needed and put an appropriate label on the outside of the storage place. Always keep keys, glasses and mobile phone in the same place.
Keeping active and engaged: A person with dementia can become withdrawn and lonely which is why it is important to keep engaged in activities that can maintain the quality of life. Keep in plain sight items that can used such as books, board games, calendars and photo albums. Keep handy a list of phone numbers which have the picture of the person next to the phone number. A whiteboard can help to write reminders and a to-do list. Place a chair near the window so that the person can take a look what is happening outside. Make sure the outside of the home has visible markers and different colors for the person to remember their own home.
Assistive Technology: Innovations in Assistive technology have come a long way in providing caregivers a safe way to take care of people that are diagnosed. Assistive technology range from simple devices to complex and integrated systems. They help in reducing anxiety and providing a safe life for people with dementia. Motion sensor alerts, safeguarding technology, temperature sensors, automated ovens, dishwashers, automatic curtain controls, sensors in bathrooms for showers, toilet, GPS trackers and video conferencing are all examples of Assistive technology that helps people going through this condition.
Although there may not be a cure for dementia, a lot can be done to let someone with dementia live well with the condition using a person-centric approach.
Dementia – Australia
Department of Health UK – Dementia
Social Care Institute for Excellence – Dementia friendly environments