There are many ways to adapt a home to make it suitable for dementia patients. But for a lot of families, it can be difficult to know where to start. This was highlighted in a recent survey carried out by United Carpets & Beds, in which 30% of those surveyed admitted they simply wouldn’t know what to do beyond addressing the most obvious hazards.

Only 7% of the people surveyed suggested they would change the interior décor, without realizing this can actually cause dementia sufferers significant distress. Flooring in particular can present problems—patients can easily be confused by patterned or flecked carpets and by highly polished floors. According to the Alzheimer’s Society’s guide to making your home dementia-friendly:

“It is very easy to trip over uneven floors or mats. Changes in the color 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 matte flooring. The color of the floor, particularly on stairs, should contrast with the walls. It may be best to avoid floor colors that might be confused with real things, such as blue looking like water or green looking like grass.”

Gilly Craft, director of Koubou Interiors and president of the British Institute of Interior Design (BIID), recommends vinyl flooring when adapting either a residence or a care home. “Vinyl flooring is probably best but avoid obvious lines, circles or squares, anything shiny and anything with a speck in the design. Obvious patterns that create a ‘barrier’ or ‘hole’ should also be avoided.”

Craft also stresses the importance of considering light reflectance value (LRV)—how much a surface reflects the light that hits it—when choosing flooring. Reflections and ‘puddles’ of light can be just as confusing as patterns, especially when they move or flicker.

Patterns across all furnishings and décor can be troublesome for dementia patients. Simple measures—such as replacing busy wallpaper with a clean coat of light-colored paint, or removing decorative scatter cushions—will help those patients identify key items of furniture. Bold, contrasting colors will also ensure that furniture doesn’t blend into the surroundings. Further adaptations that can be made to the home include: installing good, clear lighting; selecting furniture that contrasts with its surroundings; applying clear signage to rooms, drawers and cupboards; and removing visible clutter and taking care not to overfill drawers and cupboards.

These relatively small alterations can make a huge difference to day-to-day living, but are unlikely to significantly affect the look of the home—something that a dementia patient could find equally distressing. Be mindful, however, of making too many changes in one go. For example, when replacing a patterned chair with a new, plain alternative, put it in the same spot as the original to avoid any confusion. Maintaining a familiar, homely feel is crucial. “There are rules but these shouldn’t mean that the interior looks institutionalised,” Craft added. “Just think about movement through the space and how the patient will view the home overall. It needs to be comfortable, welcoming and homely.”

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