Making Your Home Dementia Friendly

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

  • Expert Advice
Published on:
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Learn helpful tips, room by room, on how to modify your home to make it safe and friendly for those living with dementia.

As a caregiver for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s, you know the challenges. One such challenge may be adapting your living space to better accommodate your loved one’s changing needs. This month we thought we would look around the house, room by room, and see how it can be modified to make it more dementia friendly. When your home incorporates the elements of dementia friendly design, your loved one’s risk of falling is reduced, his memory is aided, and he has more freedom to use his own abilities. A good design helps your loved one thrive.

Before going through each room, we will first review some elements of good dementia design.

Good Design Elements Include Lighting, and Color and Contrast

Good lighting and contrasting colors are important elements of dementia friendly design. David McNair of the Dementia Centre describes four elements of good lighting1:

  • To compensate for aging and dementia affected eyes, establish two times the recommended level of lighting in your home;
  • Use daylight as much as possible, keeping curtains open throughout the day;
  • Use “home style” lighting, such as table lamps or wall mounted lights, vs. a large overhead light that might make one feel like he is in an institution; and
  • Lighting should match the cycle of natural day to night. This helps circadian rhythm and will help maintain a quality sleep pattern.

Color and contrast are also important for us to see things better. For instance, placing a plain white dinner plate over a green placemat will create higher contrast and help your loved one see the plate and the food. Colored switch plates against a white wall, vs. white against white, is another example of contrast and will help your loved one see the light switch. With these elements in mind, let’s go room by room to see what we can do to make them dementia friendly2.

General Tips for Any Room in the House

  • Keep window coverings open throughout the day to allow natural light in, and close them only as needed to complete daily routines. Keep windows clean. Close drapes at night to avoid reflections on the window and to indicate it is nighttime.
  • Tape down area rugs, or remove altogether. Remove all tripping hazards and clutter. Remove any cables or wires that are running across the floor.
  • Keep a list of phone numbers with the telephone. If necessary, add photos to the numbers so that they are recognizable.
  • If looking into mirrors becomes a problem for the one with dementia, cover or remove them.
  • Keep upholstery and floor patterns simple, and with minimal pattern. Avoid clashing colors. On floors, avoid wavy lines, stripes, or changes of color between rooms.
  • Replace socket and switch plates with ones that are a contrasting color to the wall.
  • Use a small bulletin board for your loved one’s daily routine and to do list. Direct your loved one to it everyday.
  • Have a designated area to drop the keys, glasses, mail, etc.
  • Label the contents of drawers and cupboards using colorful photo images, cards or post-it notes. Do the same with doors, placing signs eye level for the one with dementia.
  • Leave internal doors to the most commonly used rooms open.
  • Keep household water temperature at or below 120 degrees.
  • Keep household cleaners in a locked cabinet.

The Living Room/Family Room

  • Increase lighting as needed for safety. Place lamps where safe, and use wall mounted lighting where possible.
  • Make sure seating is comfortable and at appropriate height for ease when sitting and standing.
  • Place the TV remote(s) in visible reach, keeping them in the same place.
  • Place memorabilia that trigger positive memories such as photos of family, events, holidays.

The Kitchen

  • Keep kitchen surfaces clutter free, leaving out only those items used each day.
  • Use plain plates with colored mats for contrast. Use a plastic tablecloth for easier cleanup.
  • Gadgets can help your loved one remain involved in the cooking process: clamps and holders can help keep jars steady, or a timer will remind your loved one that something is ready.
  • To see inside kitchen cupboards, change doors to glass, or just remove the doors.

The Bedroom

  • Place a lamp with a touch base at the bedside.
  • Position the bed so that the person can see the toilet during the night. Leave the bathroom light or night-light on to show the way.
  • Reduce or eliminate floor clutter. Keep shoes and slippers in the closet when not in use.
  • Contrast bedding with the floor color. Have a grey carpet? Use white or light bedding for contrast.
  • Consider motion sensors fitted to the bed or wall.
  • Consider a bed that is height adjustable.
  • Remove locks from internal doors.

The Bathroom

  • If the basin is white, put colorful stickers on it to help see it.
  • A shiny floor may cause your loved one to think it is wet and then get anxious or move unsteadily. Change the floor, or eliminate the shine.
  • Keep the toilet paper within easy reach of the toilet.
  • For ease of identifying and positioning, change the toilet seat to a bright and contrasting color. Also consider a raised seat, if needed, for ease and safety.
  • Always have the same towels available and place them prominently in the same place.
  • Use non-slip mats, a shower or bath seat, and install grab bars.

The Garden

Being outside in the sunshine has many important positive outcomes – fresh air, vitamin D, and stress relief among them. It also helps regulate our sleep cycle.

  • Create a garden with your loved one. Let him plant, pick, prune, weed and just enjoy watching how the garden grows.
  • Have a focal point in the garden, such as a birdbath or feeder. Place a seat nearby.
  • Have an outside light in the garden. Remember to keep it off when your loved one is inside so they are not attracted to the light and leave the house to investigate.
  • To help distinguish outside steps, paint a white line around the outside of each one. Level out any steps to avoid tripping or falling.
  • Eliminate any clutter or garbage in the garden. Lock up toxic, poisonous and sharp items.
  • Lock the garden gate so your loved one can wander around the garden safely and without concern of wandering away.

As you can see, there are many possible modifications, some small and others more involved. Each can contribute to improved safety, independence, improved quality of life, and the opportunity for your loved one to thrive.

About the author

Headshot of Kathleen Allen.

Kathleen Allen, LCSW, C-ASWCM

Senior Care Management Services, LLC

Kathleen Allen has been working with older adults and their families for over 20 years.

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