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How the wrong carpet can harm dementia patients’ health

slippers on rug

If a loved one begins to show signs of dementia it can be a very frightening and confusing time for all involved. Aside from the obvious emotional implications, there are many practicalities to consider to ensure the patient is both comfortable and safe.

One of the very real factors of dementia is that sufferers can become easily confused by their surroundings, even in their own home. Day-to-day objects and routines may suddenly seem alien and have to be regarded in a whole new light.

How much do the public know about dementia?

As dementia can affect anyone, sometimes with very little warning, we decided to find out how much the public know about the condition—particularly what adaptations they think they would need to make at home.

We surveyed 1000 members of the British public, asking “How would you adapt a home to suit the needs of someone with dementia?” Here’s what we discovered…

How would you adapt a home to suit the needs of someone with dementia

how would you adapt a home to suit the needs of someone with dementia

A distinct lack of awareness

As the survey shows, the public are largely in the dark about what adaptations they would have to make to meet the needs of a dementia patient.

31% of people surveyed believed that addressing obvious hazards around the home would be sufficient to ensure the patient was safe and comfortable. Although this would provide some sort of safety, it wouldn’t help tackle the confusion that dementia suffers invariably experience, especially as it is often the less obvious elements that can cause the most distress and bewilderment.

A further 30% of people surveyed admitted that they simply wouldn’t know what to do, while 12% would leave it to the professionals by arranging to place their loved one in a care home.

sofa in modern flat

Why interior décor is more important than you may think

Interestingly, changing the home’s interior décor received the fewest votes (7%), and indeed it can actually cause dementia sufferers a great deal of stress.

Certain types of flooring, for example, can pose a big problem. Carpets featuring patterns and flecks can be confused with objects on the floor, while dark areas can be mistaken for holes in the ground—two factors that would quite understandably distress a person with dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s guide to making your home dementia-friendly includes the following advice about flooring:

“It is very easy to trip over uneven floors or mats. Changes in the colour of the floor from room to room, rugs or dark floor mats can sometimes look like something you need to step over. Shiny floors can look wet or slippery and speckles in flooring may look like litter. You will be able to walk more confidently and safely over plain matt flooring. The colour of the floor, particularly on stairs, should contrast with the walls. It may be best to avoid floor colours that might be confused with real things, such as blue looking like water or green looking like grass.”

Contrast between furniture and wallpaper or curtains is also important. Choose furniture in bright, contrasting colours to the décor so your loved one can easily identify certain objects. Again, avoid strong patterns or stripes which may cause confusion.

Here are some more tips on how to adapt décor to improve living conditions for dementia patients:

  • Lighting—Good lighting will help reduce confusion and make day-to-day tasks much easier.
  • Clear signage—Put signs on cupboards and drawers and doors for instant reminders as to what is inside.
  • Remove clutter—Mess and disarray can be confusing and overwhelming. Declutter where possible and keep drawers and cupboards tidy.
  • Safety equipment—Grab rails and safety sensors designed to help with day-to-day living can be invaluable for dementia sufferers.
  • Dining—Choose tablecloths and crockery in colours that contrast with food. Very few foods are naturally blue so this may be a good option.
coffee on yellow table

Advice from the experts

To find out more about designing a living space specifically to meet the needs of a dementia patient—whether at home or in a specialist care home—we spoke to Gilly Craft, Director of Koubou Interiors and President of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID). Here’s what she had to say…

When designing a care home, what needs to be considered?

All commercial projects should consider disability as part of the design, but care homes have other things to think about too. Ageing can bring mobility problems, which the home must take into account, but designing for dementia is key. This is complex and the designer must fully understand what rules apply.

Would you approach the décor of a care home differently to other commercial projects?

Yes, Light Reflectance Value (LRV)—the measure of visible and usable light that is reflected from a surface when light hits it—is key. Certain images can also cause distress, so careful thought is needed.

Is there any type of carpet design or colour that you would favour/avoid in a care home?

Obvious patterns that create a ‘barrier’ or ‘hole’ should be avoided. As long as the LRV between the colour of the wall and floor is correct, the colour itself is not so important.

What type of flooring would you recommend for a care home or adapted home?

Vinyl is probably best but, again, avoid obvious lines, circles or squares. Also avoid anything shiny and anything with a speck in the design.

For patients living in their own home, what flooring and décor would make their home safer and less confusing?

The same rules apply but a care home shouldn’t be treated any differently to someone’s home. There are rules but these shouldn’t mean that the interior looks institutionalised. Just think about movement through the space and how the client will view the home overall. It needs to be comfortable, welcoming and homely.

What are the main things you would recommend for adapting a residential home to meet the needs of a dementia patient?

  • Consider Light Reflectance Value (LRV).
  • Careful use of pattern.
  • Careful use of images.
  • Careful use of mirrors and anything confusing.
  • Really good signage.
  • Levels of light.
kitchen tag

Simple changes can make a big difference

As dementia affects everyone differently, it can be very difficult for family and friends to anticipate what will or won’t lead to problems. A good place to start is by looking around the home through the eyes of a dementia sufferer and simplifying anything that may cause confusion.

A fresh lick of paint on the walls—preferably in a contrasting colour to the furnishings—will instantly lighten up the room, as will replacing ‘busy’ carpets and rugs with plain, neutral, low-pile alternatives. Reducing visible clutter and clearly labelling cupboards and doors will also help make using the space much clearer and ultimately ensure that the home remains a calm and welcoming place for years to come.

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