Creating a calm environment

This Help Sheet suggests ways to create a calming atmosphere in the home of a person with dementia. Not all suggestions will suit all people or situations, but some people will find a solution to a particular problem they are experiencing in the home.

Creating a soothing and comforting atmosphere for a person with dementia can have many benefits for the person as well as their family and carers.

A calming environment can:-

• Maintain familiarity with a predictable routine
• Minimise confusion by reducing choices, clutter, noise and glare
• Help a person with dementia to concentrate and rest
• Provide some meaningful activity

A number of things in the home may disturb some people with dementia. These include:-

• Confusing patterns on carpets and furnishings
• Becoming disoriented by shadows and glare
• Mirrors or reflections in windows
• Feeling disturbed by television
• Becoming agitated by loud or competing noises
• Getting confused by changes to the environment
• Losing the way and not being able to find things

What to try

Routine

• Keep the same routine and the same positions for things in the house.
Help a person with dementia to prepare for changes to their environment or routine, activities and events. Talk about them in advance and make a reminder sign about what is happening today. Also use a daily diary and calendar.

Noise

• Limit distractions and control noise. Try to have no more than one source of sound at a time and no competing noises when having a conversation. If necessary, limit the number of visitors and simultaneous conversations.
• Turn the TV off or screen programmes carefully. Avoid switching channels.
• Turn the radio off if necessary.
• Some people, however, prefer to have the low level background noise of the TV or radio because it is familiar.
 • Turn the volume down of the telephone ringing or use an answer machine if necessary.
• Some people find earplugs helpful in reducing noise levels especially in busy, noisy places such as shopping centres.
• Provide soft enjoyable background music, favourite or familiar songs, or soothing music.
• Try nature videos of rainforest, garden, and the ocean.
• Singing can have a significant calming effect on some people. Try singing the person's favourite songs and also try lullabies for soothing. A number of cassettes and CDs of lullabies are available. Create a CD of an individual's favourite songs.

Lighting and mirrors

• Eliminate shadows, glare and reflections in the house, which may be confusing or frightening.
• Mirrors can be disturbing because a person with dementia might not recognise his or her reflection and might believe there is a stranger in the house. If this becomes a problem, either remove the mirrors or cover them with a cloth.

Pets

• Pets are a very important source of comfort and relaxation for many people with dementia.

Therapies and activities

Soothing strategies include:-
• Aromatherapy
• Hand, scalp and foot massage
• Bath with lavender oil
• Spa
• If there is a spare room in the house make it into a quiet room with a comfortable chair and any items that particularly help the person with dementia to relax, such as music, non-toxic pot plants and aromatherapy. This could be a retreat if they become agitated.

Recreational activities have a very calming effect on some people. Any one of the following may be appropriate:-

• Walking
• Exercise bike
• Fishing
• Music activities like singing in a choir, playing the piano or keyboard, and dancing
• Outdoor activities like gardening, washing the car or sitting in the garden
• Visits to peaceful places like parks and beaches
• Household tasks such as washing up, folding washing
• Looking at books or being read to
• Painting, pottery or fiddling with activity boxes

Sleeping

Sleep-inducing strategies include:-
• Soothing music
• Warmed bed
• Night light to help the person recognise where they are when they wake up
• Reduced caffeine
• Relaxing herbal teas
• Reducing sweet foods before bedtime

Décor

The following decorating approaches may be helpful in reducing confusion:-
• Plain colours not patterns
• Contrasting colours to help the person see where the floor finishes and the wall starts
• Use of strong but calming colours - avoid pale colours, which may be hard to see and avoid a mix of very bright colours which may be overstimulating

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Did you know?

More than 60 per cent of all care home residents, aged over 65, have a form of dementia.