Relieving the symptoms of dementia through design
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Relieving the symptoms of dementia through design

06 January 2020 By Emma Quinn - Furniture and Design Project Manager at YPO

elderly woman in room with painting and window

Dementia is an umbrella term for many different diseases that affect the mind. Because of this, people with Dementia can suffer from a variety of different symptoms and side effects. Little changes in their environment can relieve the pressures of daily life in the long term for all kinds of people with Dementia.

In order to ease the difficulties involved in finding a care home for a person with dementia, we have put together some simple yet important adjustments you can make in your nursing home to help relieve some common symptoms.


Reminiscence Therapy 


The most common symptom of dementia is memory loss. Reminiscence therapy is a good way of incorporating all the different senses of a person with dementia in order to bring back familiar memories or help to create new ones. 


A design tip to help implement this method is to consider wall art that you use. Nostalgic images are a positive feature within a care home - they can transport patients back to a familiar scene or era, which encourages familiar feelings, memories and creating a sense of safety. 


However, it is as important to remember that as much as images can help with a good memory, they can also bring about fear of a bad one too. For instance, using an image like an oncoming train could create or recover a terrifying memory. 


As well as using sight, which is sometimes impossible depending on the symptom of dementia, it’s important to incorporate other senses too. For example, ensuring the dining room smells like a dining room or making sure that the chairs in the living room feel comfy and soft. This will help patients familiarise themselves with new rooms and make associations. 


Avoiding confusion 


Another common symptom that affects most dementia sufferers is the feeling of confusion. It can be due to suffering from memory loss or can be associated with deterioration of sight or hearing. Either way, being confused is a very serious symptom, one which is important to relieve. 


A common design tip to help prevent one of many different stages of confusion is to ensure the lighting in your care home is bright and natural. Good lighting helps people with dementia make sense of where they are and see as clearly as possible, different shades of light in one room can often cause panic and confusion about the perimeters of the room, so keep it natural and clear. 


Dementia can also affect how well people can tell the difference between colours, therefore when designing places for people with Dementia, it is important to make items distinctive by using bright and contrasting colours. A white plate on a white dining table isn’t going to help them see their food, factors like this need to be taken into consideration. Avoiding patterns is also vital, stripes especially can cause confusion in vision. 


A minimal environment is most helpful in preventing confusion. Clutter and untidiness can cause people with dementia to be distracted which drastically affects their short-term memory. Getting rid of excess items in drawers and cupboards is a simple way to do this, as well as turning off the radio when no one is listening so that the background noise doesn’t cause confusion that leads to panic. 


Wandering and ensuring they have a purpose


A common side effect of memory loss is forgetting the purpose of certain actions, creating intense feelings of stress and fear. A common urge people with Dementia have is to wander which can cause them to panic. If they begin to make a journey and then forget, it can provoke thoughts like; ‘’Where am I? What am I doing? Where did I just come from?’’ And this can be the beginning of a stressful ordeal for someone with dementia. 


To help ensure that patients know what their purpose is when wandering, you can design the layout of your care home in a way that encourages pathways. All corridors should have a clear endpoint preferably to a communal area. This kind of set up means that people with dementia can wander independently with one clear destination to focus on. 


Corridors or pathways that can’t lead to a communal area can instead lead to an interesting feature or focal point. For example, garden pathways can lead to a pond or picnic bench, and room corridors can lead to wall art or windows seats etc. This will always ensure that when patients wander that they have something to focus on. 


Using imagery to reinforce independence 


Perhaps the most upsetting symptom of dementia is when sufferers feel as though they can no longer do simple tasks for themselves anymore. It is important that your environment caters to the independence of people with dementia. 


Although memory and concentration can suffer, challenging people with dementia to help with simple everyday tasks is a great way to relieve their symptom of powerlessness. Using images in kitchens and dining rooms means that if you ask someone with dementia to lay the dinner tables or help prepare a cup of tea, they are more familiar with the environment and have more chances of success. 


Keeping things in the same place and signposting is another easy way to help people with dementia to take care of themselves. It can be helpful to ask them to fetch things or to help with other patients in the care home. Smaller actions like keeping the radio and tv controls in the same places and using images of them to show where they should be kept and what they look like can also help. Even asking them to turn the tv on for you instead is a way of ensuring they have independence.


Although using imagery is a key resource for helping with memory, confusion and design, it needs to be implemented correctly. If using images to make things recognisable or to jog memories, then make sure they are appropriate. A picture of an old-fashioned ice cream cone, for example, is going to be more recognisable and nostalgic. 


Finally, if you’re using images to help direct people with dementia to different rooms etc, use consistent colouring. Sometimes 3D visuals can be more effective in these cases, like red handrails taking you from the living room to the hall etc.  



The biggest priority is ensuring that a person with dementia feels safe and at home in whatever environment they are in, and not all dementia patients live in a care home setting, so we took a look at the Alzheimer's Society's top tips to making your home setting dementia friendly too.
Categories: Furniture , Care

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