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.