Dementia can be difficult, and with all the confusion and disorientation it can cause, it’s vital to create an entirely safe environment for dementia patients. A dementia-friendly environment will minimize confusion and help keep dementia patients safe from physical harm as well.
To get you started, we’ve created a dementia environment checklist to help you provide the best care for any individual. We’ll also explore how a sensory room can be beneficial for those with dementia and how noise affects someone with dementia.
When creating a dementia-friendly environment, it’s important that the furniture is laid out well and does not move. Walkways should be clear and unobstructed, with nothing sticking out that could cause a risk.
Once the furniture is arranged, it should always stay in the same places – moving furniture around can cause disorientation and lead to distress.
Floors made of wood, tile or linoleum can pose a slipping hazard for those with dementia, so covering it up is often the safest option for a dementia-friendly environment. However, rugs and loose carpet edges can easily create a tripping hazard. A non-slip mat with the edges taped down is a great option for a safe environment for dementia patients as this both holds the edges in places and replaces the blunt edges with smooth lines.
Clutter can cause confusion very easily, and leaving things out may signify to the person with dementia that that object is something they are using or need, even if they aren’t quite sure why. Additionally, clutter creates hazards, whether from tripping or from using certain products in the wrong way. Make sure everything not in use is put away in its place.
Dementia can be disorienting enough without trying to function in the dark! One way to create a dementia-friendly environment is to ensure that there is always sufficient lighting available. For example, consider using lights on a movement sensor or highlighting the light switch – a white switch on a white or pale wall may be missed.
Our IRiS sensory lighting can be controlled by a range of controllers (known as ‘talkers’), which are sturdy and can be waterproof or come with a joystick to work on fine motor skills. This also allows dementia patients to control their own lighting.
Anyone would be distressed if they believed that a total stranger was following them around and silently appearing unannounced in their home. Unfortunately, for some people with dementia, that can be what mirrors mean. If they don’t recognize their own reflection, they might become very agitated or even violent.
To reduce the risk of distress and anxiety in dementia patients, you can put a thick fabric over mirrors to cover them and close the blinds or curtains at night to avoid reflections in windows. Creating a safe environment for dementia patients means not only ensuring their physical safety but also that they feel safe.
Keeping written notes can help boost the memory of a person with dementia, and a designated space for this – such as a whiteboard or notepad fixed to a wall – can create a routine. Labelling this space with something urgent like ‘READ THIS’ or ‘CHECK HERE’ is more likely to catch their attention and remind them to see what’s been written.
Certain things can pose serious risks to dementia patients as a result of their difficulty retaining memory. Pills are an important example – if a dementia patient has access to all their pills, they’re likely to forget having taken a dose and take another or miss doses.
Remember, out of sight, out of mind – sometimes, creating a dementia-friendly environment is as easy as putting things somewhere they wouldn’t think to look for them. Locking things up if they could be dangerous can also be useful.
Try to use nightlights or motion-activated lights to create a clear path between the bedroom and the bathroom so that if they need to use the restroom at night, they can find their way there and back easily.
The bathroom can be a difficult place to design as a dementia-friendly environment. Independence as far as possible can be a great help, so it’s important to include aids in bathrooms.
Some useful examples include a toilet cover in a bright color, or something that will contrast the rest of the bathroom, and labels on the hot and cold sides of the faucet. A sensory bathroom can also help create a calmer environment and improve the overall experience.
If the person is not safe around electricity – perhaps they often turn something on and forget, or don’t remember that it is dangerous – you should consider things like timers, lockable socket covers and safety outlets. This will mean the person has to interact with electricity much less but will still be able to use necessary appliances, making it a much safer environment for dementia patients.
If you have any steps or stairs around the home where both sides are not against a solid wall, mark the sides of the step with bright tape. This reduces the risk of falling and makes for a more dementia-friendly environment.
Light switches at both the top and bottom of the stairs mean that the person will never have to ascend or descend the stairs without good visibility, whether it’s dark in the morning or the evening.
Between knives, stoves and cupboards at or above head height, kitchens can be very hazardous places for those with dementia. Cooking is a great activity to do with a dementia patient, but it could prove dangerous on their own. However, there are some things you can do to help, including:
• Label any opaque cupboard with what is inside it
• Choose a cupboard to store things like cleaning chemicals, knives and other immediate dangers and lock them away securely
• Depending on your type of stove, install a switch to allow you to turn it off which won’t allow them to turn it back on
Sensory spaces are proven to be highly beneficial to those with dementia. They can help them to calm down, stimulate emotion and even improve memory. In addition, immersing a person with dementia in a sensory room can help increase their awareness of their environment and improve their mood.
Products like fiber optics and our IRiS range of technology are ideal for dementia patients because they engage the individual with their surroundings, give them control and can be used by people regardless of their mobility. Aromatherapy is also a great tool often used to help dementia patients.
Check out our multi-sensory room ideas for some inspiration of what to include in a sensory room for dementia.
Unpleasant or overwhelming noises can be very distressing to a dementia patient for many reasons, so how does noise affect someone with dementia?
The link between hearing and balance means that auditory sensory overload can increase the risk of falling. Too many noises, or noises that are confusing or upsetting, can lead dementia patients to feel anxious or even become violent as a defense. To create a dementia-friendly environment, you should be aware of:
• Background noise – this could be music or television, but also cellphones, alarms or a ticking clock. You may be able to tune them out, but for a dementia patient, they might be overwhelming.
• ‘Hidden’ or confusing noise – when making noise around a dementia patient, it’s helpful to either have them able to watch you make that noise or explain what you’re doing as you do it.
• Overlapping noise – try to avoid having multiple sources of sound at once where possible. For example, before you attempt to speak to a dementia patient, ensure the television is paused, muted or turned off. This will help them to focus and minimize overwhelm.
In a sensory room, you can control the level of noise and what noise comes through. Our sound and music therapy range includes various different tools to create pleasant, natural sounds, which can be very beneficial to those with dementia.
Of course, dementia can affect people in different ways. Therefore, creating a dementia-friendly environment should be tailored, and the most important thing is safety. For guidance on creating a safe environment for dementia patients or building a sensory room for dementia, check out our blog post on choosing the right sensory package or contact us today about a free sensory room design.