Dementia care

Key functional elements in dementia care provision

Peter Rose, owner, The Care Home Designer, discusses the seven key elements that are fundamentally important to how well a care home will function: colour schemes; themes; way finding; personalisation; destinations; lighting; and toilets and bathrooms

While not a comprehensive list, seven key elements should be addressed as a minimum requirement in every dementia care home; colour schemes; themes; way finding; personalisation; destinations / places of interest; lighting; and toilets and bathrooms. A focus on these areas can have profound benefits for residents and make a positive impact throughout the care home, contributing significantly to its overall success. One of the simplest ways to improve a dementia care environment is to introduce an appropriate colour scheme. Every home needs to be decorated, so it’s just a case of thinking differently about how colour can be used. Considering light reflectance value (LRV), which measures the amount of visible and usable light that reflects from (or absorbs into) a painted surface, ensures appropriate colour contrast while providing an attractive and broad colour palette to work with. Different colour combinations for different corridors and areas of the home support better orientation.

It is a common misconception that achieving ‘contrast’ requires the use of primary colours – it doesn’t. However, there is great value in employing a professional who understands colour as well as the unique demands of dementia. The choice of wall and floor colours directly affects the amount of light in a space. Dark colours absorb light rather than reflecting it, so lighter colours should be used on larger surfaces to maximise light reflection, while darker colours should be used to pick out details such as skirting boards and door frames.

Design schemes

Skilfully chosen colour combinations can be employed consistently throughout an interior design scheme to ensure that the elements of the surroundings, such as bedding, chairs, curtains and signage, work together. A well designed colour


Colour scheme is one of the simplest ways to improve a dementia care environment

thing we truly own and what make us who we are. This is why reminiscence is so valuable; it reinforces personhood. Incorporating themes that relate to memories of experiences residents have had both respects and recognises the thoughts and feelings that mean the most to them and validates their emotional selves. Using images and destinations that are familiar to the home’s population is a powerful and grossly under valued means of influencing psychological and physical wellbeing.

Appropriate signage alone can provide a significant boost to residents’ confidence

scheme can achieve the dual purposes of being functional and attractive. Of course, it is also vital for the business that the surroundings have broad appeal. An appropriate colour scheme has benefits that include: aiding orientation; making the environment light and attractive; preventing falls; encouraging movement; supporting independence; reducing stress and anxiety; and reducing the need for antipsychotic medication. Creating meaningful themes within a home is the next level of effective differentiation. The key objective here is to make the space easier to engage with when residents are affected by dementia, and a significant consideration is facilitating regression to ensure surroundings don’t contradict what a person expects to see. We are our memories; they are perhaps the one

Using familiar themes reduces anxiety and encourages activity. The environment becomes less daunting and objects and images stimulate conversation and memories. Themes also provide effective, reliable way finding landmarks because the memories they are associated with are reliable ones. Mental conflict and boredom are reduced because the surroundings are more stimulating and relevant and health and wellbeing are supported.

Because the population of a care home is typically from the immediate locality, introducing locally relevant images and themes is also introducing something residents are likely to have in common. Images prompt conversations between residents because they discover they have things in common.

Way finding

Assuming that someone with dementia is likely to feel their care home surroundings are unfamiliar, way finding strategies become crucial in helping make residents feel more at home. The strategies described previously provide valuable support to way finding and orientation, but these can be further complimented by the use of effective signage. There are various design elements that must be incorporated to make effective signs for a dementia care • November 2018

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