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
• Keep the same routine and the same positions for things in the
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.
• 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
• 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 are a very important source of comfort and relaxation for
many people with dementia.
Therapies and activities
Soothing strategies include:-
• Hand, scalp and foot massage
• Bath with lavender oil
• 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:-
• Exercise bike
• 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
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
The following decorating approaches may be helpful in reducing
• 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