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

Did you know?

The number of people with dementia is increasing rapidly. It is estimated that there are currently 1,400 people in Jersey living with dementia, many of whom have not as yet obtained a formal diagnosis; this number is set to double over the next 25 years.