No place like home

22/05/19

For a person living with dementia, familiarity is incredibly important. As the person’s brain changes they may increasingly struggle with anything that seems different to them, with new environments being particularly problematic.

Remaining in their own home, surrounded by that which is most familiar and comforting, can be incredibly helpful in supporting the person to live as well as possible. Time and again we hear from families who choose live-in care or nursing specifically because the idea of their loved one leaving their home is unbearable for both the person and their relatives.

That’s not to say that home will always remain familiar to the person, particularly if it’s a home they moved into in later life rather than a family home they’ve spent their whole life in, but it is the most highly personalised space that the person can ever live in.


A familiar and supportive environment

A person’s home is the most ideal place to implement dementia friendly design since it can be entirely customized to the individual. Firstly, find out what is helpful for your loved one in their home and what might potentially be causing disorientation or confusion. Then consider modifications such as:

  • Changing the layout (an open-plan layout can be helpful).
  • Adding signage around the home, including on cupboards, drawers and for rooms such as the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Changing fixtures and fittings to minimise reflective surfaces, provide plain and consistent flooring (rugs or mats may look like a hole), removing bold or distinctive patterns, using coloured stair edging to provide a guide for steps, installing a walk-in shower, maximizing natural light and adjusting artificial light, minimizing echoes and other noises in rooms, setting a maximum volume for the TV or stereo to avoid your loved one being startled, and installing grab rails or ramps inside and out.
  • Using colour - making bathroom/toilet doors or door frames a different colour to highlight their location, installing a coloured toilet seat (red is a good choice), using contrasting colours to make switches and objects more visible, and using plates that contrast with the meal table and the food on the plate (blue is a good choice as foods aren’t usually blue!).
  • Installing technology - a specialist dementia clock may help your loved one to orientate themselves and/or provide medication reminders. There are also a wide variety of detectors and alert systems to help with everything from falls to floods, and remember to regularly check that smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working.

For more information on dementia friendly design, check out our article or visit the Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC), Stirling University.


The power of personal possessions

In every room your loved one will have personal possessions that can be helpful for orientation. Nothing says ‘living room’ like a favourite comfy chair prominently placed, or ‘kitchen’ like a kettle that’s brewed many a favourite cuppa. You can use photos of familiar items to help with signage too, like a picture of your loved one’s favourite plates on the cupboard where the plates are kept.

As well as providing comfort and reassurance, personal possessions can also stimulate really meaningful life story work. There are so many tales to tell from photographs, ornaments and other items that the person may have collected from travelling or childhood.

Rhythms and routines of home

Life at home has unique features that aren’t replicable anywhere else. Some of these we don’t control, like the time of day the postman delivers the letters or the day that the bins are emptied, and some that we do control, like when our boiler turns on and off, when our washing days are, what we eat and when, and which mug or cup and saucer we like to drink our tea or coffee from. For anyone with a pet, the needs of that animal also make up a vital part of daily life at home.

While many of the rhythms and routines of life may sound mundane, they are unique to us and our homes. They provide a comforting sense of normality, which is very important for a person who is living with dementia and finding that so much else in their life is changing that is beyond their control.

Cup, saucer, card

Sounds, smells, textures and temperatures

The sensory experience of home is one of the most underrated features of our personal space. This can include sounds, like those our appliances make or the ticking of our clocks, and aromas, like favourite foods cooking at mealtimes which can help to stimulate our appetite and the overall unique ‘smell’ that our homes have – which is often first noticed when you walk through the door - and is influenced by how we live (our cooking, cleaning products, perfumes etc).

Textures are an important feature of home life too, with examples including familiar carpets underfoot, the texture of soft furnishings or favourite bedding or blankets. The temperature of home is important as well – in communal environments we have no control over how hot or cold the environment is, but at home we can control this to our personal requirements.
Outside and further afield

The garden at a person’s home may be just as important to them as their inside environment, and provide both occupation and activity if the person likes gardening (raised beds may help) or pleasure from simply siting in a favourite chair and watching visiting wildlife.

When venturing further afield, a person may find that their ‘home’ neighbourhood has landmarks that they still recognise, giving them a sense of familiarity and perhaps security too. These can also provide helpful talking points when reminiscing about life in the neighbourhood, particularly a neighbourhood the person has lived in for a long time.

Staying at home for longer

Our skilled live-in carers and nurses offer expert assistance 24/7 to help people at all stages of dementia to stay at home for longer. We totally understand why, in the June 2014 report ‘Fix Dementia Care – Homecare’. The Alzheimer’s Society and YouGov found that “85% of people would choose to live at home for as long as possible if diagnosed with dementia.” With our help, it is possible for you and your family to maximise all of the benefits of being at home.

To find out more about your options for care and support now, or to understand what care and support may be needed for your family in the future, phone 01732 355 231 or email care@consultuscare.com.

With thanks to Beth Britton for her support in authoring this page. Beth is a leading campaigner, consultant, writer and blogger whose father had vascular dementia for 19 years. Beth is also a Skills for Care Endorsed Training Provider. Visit Beth’s website for more information.

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