How to Make Your Home More Comfortable for a Loved One with Dementia
The first consideration when moving a loved one with dementia into your home, or even if they’re just coming to visit, is often how to make it safer, for example, how to decrease the risk of falling. Once you’ve overcome that hurdle as best you can, your focus can shift to how to make your home a more comfortable and calming place, with less risk of agitation.
There are many forms and stages of dementia. If you have the objectives of comfort, calm and ease of care in mind, you can adjust the following suggestions to what will doubtless be an ever-changing situation as your loved one’s dementia progresses. Try the things you think will work for you and your family member now, and vary your solutions as needed.
Reduce stimuli in the person’s environment:
- Declutter your home. A simplified environment with clutter-free surfaces is more conducive to keeping emotions on an even keel, and the reduced confusion caused by removing clutter will help everyone in the family.
- Eliminate unnecessary noise. Sensory overload can cause distress. The goal of a peaceful atmosphere that will keep your family member calm and unruffled can often be achieved without the noise of a television, or the sounds from things like wind chimes or dogs or the sounds of traffic. For sounds that can’t be eliminated, a white-noise machine might help to mask them. Carpets, cushions and curtains absorb background noise.
- Playing music from your loved one’s past may actually be calming and help to stimulate memories associated with it. Try creating a playlist from the era when your loved one was young, and have them listen to it through ear phones.
- Adjust the light. Eliminate annoying glare from the windows, while letting in as much natural light as possible. A light-related challenge is the phenomenon known as “sundowning.” When the sun sets, it may prompt feelings of depression, anxiety and even hallucinations in those with dementia. Toward the end of the day, increased artificial light can actually help minimize the effects of sundowning. Put a few lights on a timer to eliminate the need for to remember to turn them on. This also keeps changes in light more consistent from day to day. Leaving a nightlight on can help prevent disorientation and the risk of falling in the dark.
Provide a personalized indoor space. Give your loved one their own place to sit and doze. A recliner, comfortable chair with an ottoman, or a couch where the person can settle in on each visit will help them to feel more comfortable and at home. Try to make this special seating area out of the way of household hustle and bustle, yet still within view. That way, your family member can relax and not be in the way, but you can keep an eye out and ensure his or her safety.
It’s handy to have a side table nearby where you can place an item or two to keep your loved one occupied. Each person will enjoy different things—books, photo albums, telephone. Try various items but don’t overload the person with too much stuff. Keep the space clutter-free.
Provide a safe outdoor space. When the weather is good, your loved one will enjoy the fresh air, the sounds of birds, the sight of flowers and trees, the warm sun and maybe a little exercise. Bird feeders may attract birds that are enjoyable to watch. Enclose the area if your loved one is a flight risk. Partial sun or shade is preferable to full sun. A chair under a tree or an umbrella can help to control the brightness of the light. You might want to set a timer so you don’t leave him or her out there too long.
Adjust flooring where possible.
- Remove unnecessary rugs.Besides being a tripping hazard, rugs can cause confusion and anxiety. A person with dementia may see a rug as a hole and try to walk around it or jump over it, or may simply freeze, not knowing what to do. A necessary rug should have a low color contrast with the floor.
- When replacing the carpet, install the same color throughout the house, to lessen confusion.
- Avoid shiny or reflective flooring. It may be perceived as wet or slippery, and the person may be afraid to walk over it.
Remove nearby mirrors and cover reflective surfaces. If the person you care for doesn’t recognize their own reflection, they may think that the face in the mirror or the person reflected in the window at night is a stranger and be frightened.
Label drawers, cupboards and doors to show what’s inside them. For example, you could put a photo of the toilet on the bathroom door, a photo of a glass on the cupboard, or the word “spoons” on the drawer that contains the silverware. Transparent cupboard doors can be a great help as it’s easy to see what’s inside.
Purchase household items that are specifically designed for people with dementia. Cups with two handles, clocks with large LCD displays, telephones with big buttons and devices to open jars are examples. There are several websites that sell daily living aids, such as the Alzheimer’s Society online shop.
Be sure tables are stable and have round, smooth edges. The height should permit food and drink to be seen easily and a wheelchair to fit underneath, if needed.
Keep a change of clothes handy. Have one drawer for this purpose with at least one pair of pants and two or three pairs of underwear. A clean shirt or blouse may also help to prevent embarrassment when an accident or spill occurs.
Stimulate memories through pictures. If you have family photos on display in your home, don’t put them away until you see how they affect your loved one. If you don’t have pictures up, think about creating a grouping of pictures someplace where they can be enjoyed together. Creating photo albums or scrapbooks that you can look at together and talk about can also be enjoyable, even if your loved one doesn’t remember the people or places in them. Take photos of you and your parent to help you remember the special times you had together.
Monitor personal comfort. Because a person with dementia might not always be able to express how they feel, check for pain, hunger, thirst, constipation, full bladder, fatigue, infections and skin irritation. Make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature. Be sensitive to fears and to the frustration of not being able to express what is wanted.
Try to keep your emotions in check and your voice calm and steady. Avoid arguing, correcting or criticizing. It’s better to be happy than to be right!