Living with dementia – a practical guide to your home environment

By Marion Foreman. Published 2020-03-15
BOLD-Wellbeing
From the 16th-22nd of March it is Brain Awareness Week:

If you have been diagnosed with dementia or you are caring for someone who has dementia, there are some simple things that you can do to make your home safe, efficient and enjoyable.

Lighting

Ensuring that your house is well lit will lessen your chances of tripping or bumping into furniture.  Unlit rooms and shadowy corners can be hazardous especially if you occasionally get confused. 

It could be worth considering buying an improved reading light (there are many advertised), and wherever possible make the most of natural light (sit near windows, keep curtains pulled back.)

Flooring

Plain matt flooring is easiest – giving rise to fewer trip hazards and no shiny illusions.  Its worth avoiding flooring that can cause confusion – both shiny and very large patterns can be difficult if you are a bit muddled at times.   

It’s especially important to keep all cables tucked away, there are many types of clips and ties available

Consider marking the edge of stairs with tape or paint if they are wooden and if carpeted, ensure that the carpet isn’t lose and is well tacked down.  The same goes for mats, if they are slippy or trip hazards, best to remove them.

Furniture

Use contrasting colours so that they don’t blend in too easily and become difficult to see

Remove pictures from the walls if they cause confusion, likewise mirrors can be disorientating and strange if you catch sight of yourself.

Be wary of strong patterns on soft furnishings– they can easily confuse.

Know where things are

Label the outside of cupboards, wardrobes and drawers so that you know what is inside.  If there is an order to the cupboards then finding the contents will be much easier (and much less annoying)

Don’t hide things away – you will be less likely to forget them if you can see them.  But on the other hand – too many things left out, for example on the work surface, will cause confusion.  Try to work out what works well for you.

Keep things (such as keys) in a designated place and always return them to that place.  Searching for things can be very stressful and irritating, finding ways to avoid that situation can help.

Eating and drinking

Prompt yourself to eat – you could try a pinned note saying when mealtimes are.  You might want to set an alarm on your phone. 

You may find it helpful to make notes of things you like to eat and suggested combinations

Using the loo

Label the room on the door – making it easier to find

Prompt yourself to go to the loo at regular intervals (such as every two hours)

Remove the lock from the loo door – just in case anything happens, and you need help

Reduce the clutter

This helps to avoid confusion and makes it easier for you to find what you want.  It doesn’t mean losing all your prized possessions but it will be easier if there is an order to where they are stored

Putting things away in their place makes it so much easier to find them next time.

Use open shelving instead of closed cupboards if possible – being able to see things will provide prompts

Keep safe

Install grab rails – especially at steps and in the bathroom.   Again – do this early – it’s easier to organize and won’t seem so urgent and difficult.

Have working smoke detectors- you can get help from the fire service with this. 

Have a call alarm linked to a call center.  You will then feel confident that you can summon help if you should need it.  They can make a call to a family member or friend if you need help. 

Enter ICE numbers into your phone – if you don’t know how to do this ask one of your grandchildren!

Keep active and engaged

Have plenty to do and use prompts / aids to help you to remember. 

Take regular exercise, join a group that offers exercise for older people – you might make new friends as well as getting fit!

Keep intimate, cuddle the ones you love, and don’t forget that you are still ‘allowed’ to have sex! 

Get a clock with a clear display that also tells you the day of the week and the date.  Put it somewhere where it will help you to orientate yourself

Book all your events on your calendar and put it somewhere where you will see it often. 

Try setting reminders on your phone, this will only really work if you are familiar with responding to the phone beeping.

Have a white board (or a blackboard ) pinned up somewhere where you will see it often.  Jot down things that you want to remember. 

Keep a shopping list – as soon as you use something up – jot it down – it will make stocking up much easier. 

Keep going with your hobbies.  Do all the things you have always enjoyed.  You may need to make some adjustments to keep safe but many activities can continue.  Ask for the help you might need and join a group of likeminded people. 

Getting outside

Keep gardening – you might need help with some of the jobs – but there is a lot that you can carry on doing. 

Go for walks (use familiar routes) and if this starts to worry you – ask friends / family to come with you.  Look out for local Health Walks which are organized, guided walks which give companionship as well as exercise and fresh air. 

Install a key safe – it is very reassuring to know that if you were to lose your keys you could still get indoors by using the stored key.  It’s also very useful to let a few chosen people know the code just in case you need them to get indoors in an emergency.

Keep visiting friends – see the section on travel.  It’s very important to maintain friendships and seeing your friends.  Being isolated can lead to loneliness and feelings of sadness and loss.

Basically, keep doing all the things you love and don’t forget to have fun, sing and have a laugh!    

  • The NHS has some useful tips on staying independent and living at home, see this link
  • The Alzheimers Society also has some useful guidance on how to safe at home - see the link here
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