As an allied health professional consultant and an occupational therapist, part of my role is to help people to keep doing the things they need and want to do in daily life. This includes working with the person to understand their abilities and difficulties, habits and routines, likes and dislikes. An important element of this process is considering all of these things in relation to the home environment. For someone with dementia they might experience problems with their memory, with keeping track of the day and time of day, with finding items around the home and adapting to other age related changes. By making a few changes at home people can minimise the impact of these problems making everyday life easier and less stressful. Here are a few things that I have learned along the way.
- Let there be light….
Lighting is especially important for people living with dementia because of age related changes to our sight and the fact that dementia can change how we perceive what our eyes are seeing. Here are a few things to think about in relation to lighting at home:
- Are you getting as much natural light as possible? Things like having your windows cleaned regularly, using tie backs for curtains to allow light in and keeping trees and plants near windows cut back can all help.
- Do you have enough lights and are they bright enough? You might be able to use brighter bulbs in your existing light fittings or have an additional lamp beside your armchair or at the bedside. Every little helps.
….. and dark
Getting a good night’s sleep can be a problem and this can be due to lots of different reasons. Keeping track of day and night so your body knows when it is time to go to bed and when its time to get up can be difficult.
- Having a dark bedroom (with thick or black out curtains) can help you get to sleep and stay asleep especially in the summer months.
- Shutting your curtains when it’s dark outside can also help as some people find the reflections on the window are distracting or even upsetting.
- Using contrast to help
Contrast can help to make important things more visible. If you aren’t sure if there is a good contrast then try taking a black and white photograph and see if the object is clear in the picture.
Here are a few items to consider if the contrast is good enough:
- Does the toilet seat or chair contrast with the floor?
- Do your plates contrast with the table surface/table cloth?
- Is the banister a contrasting colour to the wall?
You don’t always need to spend lots of money on increasing the contrast.
- A replacement toilet seat in a different colour can be purchased at a reasonable cost
- Rather than replacing all your plates, maybe a coloured table cloth or place mat would be a cheaper option.
- A new chair or carpet would be expensive but a coloured throw could help without spending so much money.
- “A place for everything and everything in its place”
I found the best solutions were usually personal to the individual and used existing habits and routines. Here are just a few of the strategies that I have learned from people with dementia:
- Keeping keys on a hook near the door and a sign on the inside of the door as a reminder.
- Having an extendable key ring “clipped” onto your handbag so it is always attached.
- Keeping a special bowl/box with “essential items” for tasks in that place e.g. a pair of glasses and the remote control next to where you watch television.
- Using labels (might have a picture as well as the words) on cupboards or drawers where commonly used items are stored
- Recognising that sometimes things will be misplaced so having a few spares (e.g. keys, reading glasses) to hand to reduce stress when this happens.
This has just been a small selection of ideas. It would be great to hear how other people have made changes at home to make living with dementia in daily life easier.
If you have any other hints and tips it would be great if you could share them in a comments section?
AHP Dementia Consultant (NHS Lothian)
My role involves raising awareness of the contribution AHPs make to helping people with dementia, their families and carers live well and supporting AHP service development, education and evaluation. The national remit of my role includes producing the Dementia AHPproaches newsletter, leading a national pilot of the Tailored Activity Programme and supporting AHPs in the development of early interventions and supported self management for people living with dementia, their families and carers.