Designing a dementia-friendly home

February 19, 2018
Help your loved one maintain their sense of place and identity.

Dementia is a complex condition.

The neurocognitive disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a performative decline in cognitive behaviours, to the extent of impacting one’s independence in day-to-day living. Diagnosis requires impairment in at least one of six mental domains – and with so many ways that dementia can present itself, each person may experience it differently.

It’s vital that home environments reflect the needs and lifestyles of people with dementia.

That said, common symptoms include confusion, memory loss and disorientation which, coupled with problems with mobility and co-ordination, may greatly affect safety. Furthermore, dementia is the third leading cause of disability for all Australians, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Due to impairment and increased risk of injury, it’s vital that home environments reflect the needs and lifestyles of people with dementia. A few simple changes to an individual’s living situation can vastly improve their quality of life and reduce daily risks.

Improve clarity of surroundings

Being able to easily recognise where they are and feel comfortable exploring their environment can help people with dementia to manage feelings of confusion.

When providing a helpful home for your loved one, try to use visually accessible spaces to help them in identifying where they are, where they’ve come from and what they might find in a certain direction. This could mean choosing homes where doorways look into one another or windows are easily visible to provide a frame of reference.

Employ visual accessibility tactics to simplify life for people with dementia.Create clear, visually accessible spaces with obvious purposes to improve home life for loved ones with dementia.

You can also use helpful stimuli to improve recognition. Consistent sights, sounds and smells can reduce uncertainty and reassure people with dementia. Try placing visual cues to be immediately visible from hallways and doorways to help your loved one identify what they’ll find in each room. It’s especially a good idea to ensure that there is a clear line of sight from the bedroom to the toilet when incontinence strikes.

It’s important when using stimuli to not overdo it. Many people with dementia struggle to filter stimulation so prolonged exposure to high volumes of stimuli, especially visual, can add to stress levels. Keep things simple to avoid overwhelming your loved one.

Reduce risks unobtrusively

It’s not uncommon for people with dementia to feel frustrated due to lessened ability. Obvious safety features have the potential to add to this frustration, as people may feel as though they are being condescended to or underestimated.

Simple design choices can help to reduce risks found in the home without flustering your loved one.

Simple design choices can help to reduce risks found in the home without flustering your loved one.

Choosing homes with well-defined pathways, free of obstacles, can help decrease the dangers of aimless wandering – and should guide people away from areas of social or cognitive stress as well as outdoors.

You may also consider bringing attention to important items using contrasting colours. A toilet seat in a different colour from the rest of the loo can help someone with dementia to avoid sitting on a closed lid or raised seat, protecting them from falls.

If falls do occur, our connected care solutions include wearable personal alarms. These low-profile devices can be worn around the neck as a pendant or on the wrist or belt. Should your loved one feel unsafe for any reason, they can press the button on their alarm to trigger an alert with our 24-hour response centre or an on-site carer. From then, further assistance can be arranged between the client and respondent as necessary via the hands-free speaker and microphone built into the alarm’s hub. If the client is unresponsive, emergency vehicles will be dispatched.

Devices like these can improve the outcome of dangerous situations, providing assurance for you and your loved one without being overbearing or detracting from one’s independence.

Let them be alone and with others

People with dementia can be easily overwhelmed, but they still need social stimulation to maintain their sense of identity and happiness. That’s why it’s important that they have equal opportunity to be by themselves or amongst others.

Make sure your loved ones have access to social spaces as well as quiet areas.Comfortable spaces that your loved ones can share improve their social lives and reduce stigma.

Create spaces in your loved one’s homes that have clear defined purposes for both social and nonsocial activities. These could include a chair near a bookcase for reading, or a window-facing couch for looking out and talking. It’s important that these spaces are comfortable so as to be inviting to people with or without dementia. That way, they’re equally likely to be used and dementia-related stigma among visitors and neighbours can be reduced.

If possible, choose a home near your own or other family members, so that dropping by for a chat can be done easily and frequently. Then, do your best to design a safe home for your loved one and let Tunstall Healthcare support you.

We can help develop a tailored dementia-friendly solution for people living with dementia, as well as their carers and loved ones, to help manage risks and provide the appropriate level of monitoring and assistance.