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3.15 Making your home ‘dementia friendly’

A few key changes around the house will support people with dementia to function better.

Whether you have been in your home for years or just moved to a new one, there are many things you can do to make your home both age and dementia friendly.  In recent years, research has shown that a few key changes around the house will support people with dementia to function better. Most of these are quite simple. 

Improve the lighting

Our eyes let in less light as we age. In fact, older eyes receive about half the amount of light as those of a younger person. Furthermore, older eyes cope less well with glare and react more slowly to changes in light levels, such as stepping indoors from a bright day outdoors. 

Poor lighting and sudden changes in light levels put us at greater risk of falls. Simply increasing the brightness of your light bulbs, having clean windows, and opening blinds or curtains to let in light can help people with dementia see more clearly. Having good light indoors helps the eyes adjust more quickly from outside to inside and improves the ability to see items. 

You may also consider using ‘stick on’, battery operated lights in the pantry or closet to make them brighter. You can also try using night lights to illuminate the way to the bathroom at night.

Use colour contrast   

The brain of a person with dementia often has difficulty ‘seeing’ an object as distinct from its background. White clothes laid out on a white bedsheet or white towels against a white bathroom wall are essentially camouflaged!  

Using contrasting colours can help people with dementia to see the world more easily. Consider what the person with dementia seems to have difficulty finding or seeing. For example, cutlery on a pale grey placemat or a white toilet seat, on a white toilet, in a white bathroom would be hard to see for a person with dementia. Use contrast such as a coloured placemat or toilet seat to provide more visual information. Talk to an occupational therapist to help you identify areas of your home that would benefit from colour contrast. 

Keep floors clear of clutter, and avoid patterns and dramatic colour changes

Interpreting visual information is harder for people with dementia, which puts them at a greater risk of falling than people without dementia of the same age. This is especially true when interpreting colour changes on floors.  

In general, dark colours recede, or look further away, while light colours appear closer. As a result, dark mats on a white floor can appear to be holes or steps downwards for people with dementia, a bright glare on shiny floors can temporarily blind the person and swirly carpet patterns can upset their balance. These ‘optical illusions’ can cause people to stumble or fall. 

Keeping floors clear by removing clutter and making sure that they are a consistent matte colour to prevent falls and promote confidence in moving around. Further information on preventing falls can be found here.

Keep appliances and fittings familiar

Keira and Coen updated their bathroom and kitchen. They chose modern taps and an integrated fridge and dishwasher – one with doors that looked like the kitchen cupboards. Now, over five years later, Coen is finding the taps almost impossible to work and he must open half a dozen cupboards to find the fridge. When replacing items in your home, find those that look and feel familiar to the person with dementia.  

This website provides many simple ideas for each room in the house 

Consider consulting an occupational therapist before making home modifications to choose fixtures and fittings that will support both you and the person you’re caring for to function more effectively in your home.  

You can search for an occupational therapist in your area here.

Important actions

  • Visit Dementia Enabling Environments for simple ideas for each room in the house that will help.
  • Ask your doctor to refer you to an occupational therapist.
  • Write down some of the strategies and try them at home.