Caring for someone with dementia is a challenging experience that requires you to constantly learn and adjust to improve their quality of life. Dementia is an umbrella term for conditions that damage brain cells, interfering with their ability to transmit messages and inspire action. Most dementia conditions cause progressive cognitive loss, making it more difficult for someone to think, make decisions and form and retain memories.
Dementia conditions affect 10% of older Americans. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common condition, affects about 6.7 million Americans aged 65 or older. Since the rate of vision impairment and blindness increases with age, it’s natural to associate vision-related sensory issues experienced by someone with dementia with age rather than the degeneration of brain cells.
However, emerging studies show the prevalence of sight loss is higher in people with dementia than in the rest of the older population. Sight loss makes it harder for someone with dementia to make sense of the world, leading to a higher rate of falls, disorientation and hallucinations.
While you may be unable to protect a loved one with dementia from sight loss, you can apply various methods to improve their quality of life. One of these methods is using dementia-friendly colors in memory care homes to improve their mental functioning.
Understanding Dementia and Its Impact on Sensory Perception
Visual perception refers to the process through which the brain receives, interprets and turns electric signals into information you can understand and act upon. This collaborative process involves the occipital, temporal and parietal lobes. Since dementia can damage cells in multiple lobes, it may stop, slow down or cause incorrect visual perceptions.
Damaged occipital lobes make it difficult for someone with dementia to understand what they’re looking at. Thus, a stick can look like a pen and a piece of string like a snake.
Affected temporal and parietal lobes can cause those with dementia to assign the wrong use to the image the brain creates, such as using a spoon as a fork or thinking their daughter is their mother.
It’s also difficult for them to tell time, judge distances, and identify locations.
The Psychological Impact of Dementia-Friendly Colors
Colors are crucial to visual perception, even for people without dementia. Bright colors readily capture visual attention since they reflect more light than dull colors. Contrasting colors make it easy to tell the difference between surfaces, and your brain may automatically associate some colors with particular phenomena — for example, green with nature and blue with water.
Colors also evoke emotion. Some people associate red with a cozy, happy mood reminiscent of Christmases spent with loved ones. Others respond positively to yellow since it brings warm, sunny summers to mind.
Colors enhance visual perception in people with memory loss conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Using the right colors in memory care environments can help make your loved one more comfortable and active.
Colors to Avoid in a Dementia Care Environment
While colors are generally helpful for those with dementia, some shades and hues can confuse and agitate them. For example, spots of black on the floor may look like holes, while shades of gray may look like menacing shadows.
People with dementia also don’t respond well to glistening or reflective surfaces. Shiny floors may look like a wet or slippery surface, and they may get scared if they don’t recognize their reflection on mirrored surfaces.
Colors That Promote a Calming and Soothing Atmosphere
People with dementia often get confused and irritated when trying to make sense of their surroundings. Using colors with a calming effect can give them respite and improve their mental health.
The pink effect refers to using certain shades of pink to induce a tranquilizing effect that can reduce feelings of anger, agitation and aggression.
Natural shades of blue, such as those resembling the sky or the sea, can lower blood pressure, allowing relaxation.
Brown is a grounding color that can enhance a sense of comfort.
Green is another natural color that induces a sense of tranquil happiness. Green and pale yellow rooms can gently stimulate the brain and central nervous system activity.
The Importance of Lighting, Nature-Inspired Elements and Personalization
When creating dementia-friendly spaces, lighting is just as important as color. Clever dementia-friendly lighting that eliminates shadows without overpowering the eyes can improve visual perception in those with dementia. Ensure lighting doesn’t bounce off reflective surfaces such as mirrors, marble and metals to reduce glare and confusion.
Orienting bedrooms and lounges toward the outdoors allows people with dementia to access natural sounds and lighting without getting hurt or lost. Colorful flowers and plants can also create a calming effect that enhances their mood and cognitive abilities.
Remember, people react differently to colors. Reds can stimulate creativity in some people and annoy or agitate others. Ask a loved one about their color preferences to incorporate dementia-friendly colors successfully.
Choosing Dementia-Friendly Colors for Different Spaces
Use purpose-based dementia-friendly colors for walls, floors, ceilings and furnishings in the room’s environment.
Red and orange stimulate brain activity and can be painted in hallways and activity rooms to prod your loved one’s memory, creativity and engagement. Orange is a warm color that can create a cozy feel in living rooms and lounges.
Distinct colors make it easier for the brain to separate different rooms and surfaces. Create a sharp contrast between the floor and steps or stairs to reduce the likelihood of falls. Varying colors from room to room can help someone with dementia remember their location.
Matching colors in rooms designed for similar memory care activities, such as lime green in toilets and bathrooms, can help your loved one know what to do when there.
Extend the application of dementia-friendly colors to important objects such as furnishings, decor and even cutlery. A study found that serving people with dementia food on red plates can improve food intake by 25%.
Practical Tips for Implementing Dementia-Friendly Color Schemes
These tips can make implementing dementia-friendly color schemes easier and more cost-effective:
- Install wooden floors with a light, natural shade of brown. Don’t use floor coverings such as carpets or rugs in most areas since they can be visually confusing and increase the likelihood of tripping and falling.
- Use wallpapers, fake flowers, plants and rocks to create a maintainable natural environment inside the home.
- Ask for your loved one’s input when furnishing or decorating to select colors they find appealing and calming.
Enhancing Quality of Life for People With Dementia Through Colors
Having a loved one diagnosed with dementia can be a heartbreaking and confusing experience. However, people with dementia still have the opportunity to find joy in their day. Simple things such as using colors can make them more active, healthier and happier.
Getting professional care can improve the quality of life for those with dementia. Memory care facilities in Maryland use experienced caregivers to help your loved one accomplish activities of daily living such as toileting, bathing, dressing and eating. Caregivers also ensure your loved one receives physical and mental stimulation through dementia-friendly exercises and brain games.
Cedar Creek Memory Care Homes in Maryland provide a homelike environment for people in various stages of dementia. Your loved one is assured of full-time, personalized care from compassionate staff dedicated to every aspect of their well-being. Contact us at (301) 384-4017 to learn about the benefits of having your loved one receive dementia care at our comfortable home in Maryland.