If your aging senior is living with dementia, Alzheimer’s or other cognitive disorder, you know what a challenge it can be to make them feel safe and comfortable as these conditions can make understanding the world around them a difficult and confusing experience.
In fact, your loved one may see the place they call home in a completely different way than you do. Fortunately, researchers have dug deep into what makes homes safe and more livable for those living with dementia.
How do People with Dementia See the World?
For people living with dementia, visual stimuli aren’t received in the same way as they are in neurotypical brains. For instance, logic tells us that a mirror is just reflective glass, and the reflection in the mirror is just a reflection of us. But dementia can scramble that logic, telling an aging adult with the disease that the person in the mirror is a stranger. This can be a stressful and scary experience.
Shadows and other dark surfaces on the floor can appear as holes. If you notice your loved one avoiding rugs or dark spots on the floor, this may be why. Crowded and cluttered spaces can be similarly disorienting, as these can contribute to the visual noise that makes a room difficult to understand.
Because memory works differently in adults living with dementia, changes in decor or misplaced furniture can make them feel like they’re somewhere else entirely. When creating spaces or adapting the home to help our loved ones to age in place, it’s important to base design decisions on how they see and experience the world.
Creating Comfortable Spaces for Adults with Dementia
When family caregivers begin creating spaces for their senior to age in place, they should consider reducing clutter and removing confusing items. Furniture should be sparse and uncluttered too. Overall, these spaces should create a sense of calm and not provide excessive stimuli.
- Walls, floors and décor items should be light, calming colors. This can help reduce shadows and dark spots.
- Avoid using loud, bright colors, busy patterns or lots of decoration.
- Spaces should be well-lit, and the lighting should be arranged to reduce dark areas. This helps to avoid trips and falls and minimize shadow hallucinations.
- Glass windows and staircases should be clearly marked to avoid injury.
Making Sure the Home is Safe
For adults with dementia, homes can be filled with dangerous things. Locks on bedrooms and bathrooms can be hazardous, faucets and tubs can cause scalds, and liquid on hard flooring can lead to broken bones and other serious injuries. To address these issues, install grab bars, large non-slip mats and temperature controls in the bathroom, and consider replacing doorknobs with non-locking ones so they can be opened in the event of a fall or other emergency.
Hazards can extend outside the home as well. Wet leaves, roots, branches and steppingstones can be dangerous and should be cleared or removed. It’s also a good idea to make sure the outside of the home is well-lit to avoid shadows and dark shapes at night.
Finally, consider adding web-connected door and window alarms, as well as cameras, around the home. Adults with dementia may attempt to find places from their past and can easily get lost once they leave their homes. These devices can alert you if they wander off.
Keeping Loved Ones Safe Requires Patience and Persistence
Helping those with dementia age in place requires ongoing care, frequent check-ins and a watchful eye, but it’s not impossible. In addition to making spaces safer and more comfortable for them, there are a few other things you can do to keep them from becoming ill or sustaining an injury.
- Check the pantry and fridge for expired or spoiled food
- Keep things like pet food and car keys out of sight
- Keep the home clean and clear of objects that may be disorienting
- Check faucets, electrical devices and cooking equipment to make sure they haven’t been left on.
If these tasks become too stressful, a professional home care service can provide extra support and peace of mind.