Natural light, good contrast and spaciousness in a well-designed dementia care home

design for dementia – part 1

DC mindmap 5

When people have dementia, they can experience changes in the way they perceive and make sense of the world:

  • Many older people experience deteriorating eyesight, making it harder to see in dull light.
  • Peripheral vision may deteriorate, making it hard to see things that aren’t at the centre of the field of vision.
  • They may misinterpret patterns in fabrics, reflections in mirrors, and moving shadows – and be startled by them. Come to think of it, I remember being scared by these things too as a child.
  • They may forget how to find their way around, even in their own home.
  • They may also forget where everyday items are located, and increasingly mislay items like keys – or return items to the wrong place after use (Why is the milk in the oven, Mum?!).

With these changes in mind, how can we make life easier for our loved ones with dementia? Let’s start with some general suggestions.

Keep it light: Make sure that there is adequate light to help your loved one find their way around safely. Introduce natural light where possible and ensure that artificial lighting is bright enough and well positioned.

Colour and contrast: As vision deteriorates, it becomes harder to distinguish between floors, walls, doors, furniture and fittings if they are all a similar colour. So, paint doors, skirtings and walls contrasting colours, and fit contrasting toilet seats and hand rails that stand out. Keep colour schemes lighter and brighter, rather than duller and darker to help with failing vision.

Avoid confusing patterns: Block colour is more calming and less confusing than patterns. And avoid dark mats that contrast with the floor colour – these can be misinterpreted as a hole in the floor.

Label doors: Make laminated labels for rooms and cupboards and stick these on the doors at eye-level. Use pictures and words to reinforce meaning.

Reminder signs: Inside the front door, stick up a sign to remind your loved one of things they need to do before going out, like making sure the stove is off, and taking their front door key with them.

Natural light, good contrast and spaciousness in a well-designed dementia care home

Natural light, good contrast and spaciousness in a well-designed dementia care home

 

 

 

 

I needed surgery to repair my wrist after falling off a chair!

Beyond brain fog, depression … and dementia?

Dem Connxns Mindmap 5

Having experienced my mum’s dementia journey, I’m encouraged by new evidence that it may be possible to avoid some types of dementia. The Bredesen Protocol – ‘a comprehensive personalized programme designed to improve cognition and reverse cognitive decline’ – is big news right now. I can’t wait for my copy of Dr Bredesen’s book, The End of Alzheimer’s, to arrive from Loot.co.za.

I’ve been surprised, though, to find many people writing off this possibility. In the on-line dementia support groups I belong to, there have been a number of posts stating that Dr Bredesen is just out to make money from selling his book, and that he is peddling false hope and ‘snake oil’ solutions.

Perhaps we don’t dare raise our hopes, only to have them dashed.

I’d like to encourage us to take this risk. I believe Dr Bredesen’s message of hope because I have experienced miraculous improvements in my own health resulting from a few dietary changes.

Only five years ago, my health was a mess. I’d shattered my wrist in 22 places falling off a chair! After surgery to insert a plate and screws, a scan revealed advanced osteoporosis. I was 53 years old. That wasn’t all. I had suffered from irritable bowel syndrome most of my life, was chronically depressed, had brain fog, and experienced mood swings related to unstable blood sugar.

I needed surgery to repair my wrist after falling off a chair!

I needed surgery to repair my wrist after falling off a chair!

Breaking my wrist was my wake-up call. I’d read about the side-effects of osteoporosis medications and knew that I didn’t want to take any of them. It was time to get to the root of my health issues.

I am grateful to live in the Age of the Internet. My healing journey started with an on-line course on osteoporosis offered by a functional medicine doctor in California. She taught me about the importance of gut health, the devastating impact of sugar and gluten on the body, and the essential role of the millions of microscopic ‘bugs’ that live in our bodies – especially in our intestines.

Just three days after cutting gluten out of my diet (I stopped eating wheat, rye, barley, oats and corn), my chronic depression lifted and has never returned. My brain fog also cleared up, and my balance improved.

Thanks to a low-carbohydrate diet and no sugar, my mood swings and anxiety are a thing of the past. Drinking home-made bone broth, and no longer eating foods that cause inflammation (e.g. gluten, sugar and industrial seed oils), has helped to heal my gut.

I discovered that osteoporosis is not just caused by poor absorption of calcium. It’s also an auto-immune condition, which is triggered by a condition called ‘leaky gut’. Since my gut health has improved, so has my bone health. Tests have shown that I no longer have osteoporosis!

Bone scan

Unsurprisingly, all the steps I’ve taken to improve my bone health are included in Dr Bredesen’s protocol for improving brain health. He too recommends a low-carbohydrate diet, minimising chronic inflammation, reducing blood sugar and insulin levels, and improving gut health. And of course, exercise, sleep and stress management are vital too!

Brain fog and chronic depression are signs of brain impairment, which may result in dementia. And yet, simple dietary changes healed not only my bones but my brain too. I hope that my story will encourage you to trust that we can and will turn the tide on dementia.

 

Spending time in the garden with a loved one brought mum joy

Nature as care partner

Dem Connxns Mindmap 4

Just for a moment, can you put yourself into the shoes of a person living with dementia in a care home?

Who are all these people in the sitting room? Why are you here anyway? Someone has left the TV on (loud) even though you can’t follow the programme. And every time you try to get up to find somewhere quiet, a person in a uniform forces you to sit down.

Can you imagine how bored, confused, frustrated or even angry you might feel?

A person-centred approach to care reminds us that, when figuring out how best to support someone with dementia, we should be led by their interests, abilities, history and personality. In my case, a daily dose of nature would be essential!

It was my mum who showed me how important nature is for the well-being of people living with dementia. Mum loved nature. She had been a keen walker and gardener most of her life. So, I could not imagine visiting her at the retirement village without taking her for a walk, even if it was just around the garden.

But one day, Mum collapsed and was rushed to hospital. When she was discharged, she was moved to the frail care unit at the retirement village. Within a couple of weeks her mood had changed completely – no longer happy and easy-going, she had become frustrated and depressed. Why?

I remember going to visit her one weekend. I found her sitting on the couch in the reception area, waiting for someone to unlock the security gate and take her for a walk outside. But nobody had the time. Instead, she spent her days locked indoors, confined to a chair in front of daytime TV.

We could not bear to witness Mum’s deteriorating mental state. After a couple of months, we moved her to a dementia home where the care culture was based on the principles of the Eden Alternative. With free access to a beautiful garden, and a cat, chickens, ducks and rabbits to delight her, Mum flourished. No longer frustrated or depressed, her last four years were some of the happiest of her life.

When developing a care plan for a person living with dementia, consider the role that nature has played in their life. What were their favourite outdoor environments, sports, hobbies and social activities?

And as the dementia progresses, and they become increasingly frail, review and adapt what they can do. In time, simply sitting in the garden or at a window admiring the view may be all that is physically possible. But research has shown that even a view of trees has therapeutic benefits!

Spending time in the garden with a loved one brought mum joy

Spending time in the garden with those she loved brought Mum joy

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Our loved ones with dementia can teach us to slow down and be present

Slow down, be present

Dem Connxns Mindmap 3

Trying to communicate with a loved one with dementia can be hugely frustrating … until we learn to slow down and be present with them.

This didn’t come easily for me! I was in full-on ‘busy adult mode’ when Mum started slipping into dementia. Having to answer the same question over and over, and listen to her repeat the same story countless times a day, tested what little patience I had.

When I was growing up, a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’ glared accusingly at us kids from behind the bathroom door: “Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,” it demanded.  In the rush to tick off my list of ‘very important things to do’, I forgot that I was actually a human BE-ing and morphed into a very busy human DO-ing.

But busyness was not what Mum needed. She had stepped over a threshold into a land of deep forgetfulness, where the past and future were slipping away. Coming to rest in the present moment, she waited patiently for me to slow down enough to connect with her there.

So, how did I finally learn to slow down and be present with Mum?

A coach taught me some very helpful calming practices developed by the HeartMath Institute. Practising those techniques regularly helped me to release my frustration, become more focused and calm, and realise that I could communicate with Mum ‘from the heart’ rather than through lots of words.

Being in the present moment with Mum was a blessing. Some of my most precious memories are from the last few years of her life when we spoke little but communed deeply through touch and gaze.

Our loved ones with dementia can teach us to slow down and be present

Our loved ones with dementia can teach us to slow down and be present

 

 

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