Decor and furnishings

This Help Sheet suggests some ways to make furnishings and décor as safe and comfortable as possible for a person with dementia, their family and carers. Not all suggestions will suit all people or situations, but some people may find a solution to a particular problem they are experiencing with furnishings and décor.

The aim of any changes to the furnishings and décor of the home of a person with dementia is to help the person find their way around and maintain a familiar environment.

It should also help to:-
• Trigger memories
• Support independent mobility
• Ensure that lifting and transfers are easier and safer for family and carers

What to try

Furniture
• Some people with dementia use furniture for support as they walk, to prevent falls. It may be necessary to remove swinging chairs, chairs on wheels and rocking chairs, as well as obstacles like coffee tables and foot stools, from walking paths.

It will probably be necessary to have or acquire a sturdy comfortable armchair that is easy to get in and out of.

There are a number of considerations when choosing a chair:-
• The chair should be stable
• If it has wheels they must be able to lock
• If it has controls for reclining, they may need to be located at the back, out of reach
• Ideally, arm rests should be strong, extend further out than the seat and be smooth with no sharp edges
• The chair should be higher than usual. Special blocks to raise the height of a chair are available
• It may be necessary to have incontinence-proof (easy wash, with waterproof backing) fabric or a waterproof pad on the seat. These fabrics are available in home-like colours and patterns
• Ideally, the upholstery should be in a contrasting colour to the floor and walls to make it easier to see
• Recliner chairs that tilt back can be comforting and safe for people who have a tendency to fall forwards out of a regular flat seat. Chairs that have an automatic lift facility to help people get up, can be frightening for some people with dementia
• People with dementia often have difficulty judging the distance between furniture and so suffer lots of bumps and bruises. Remove furniture with sharp edges or find some way of padding or covering the edges by sanding or attaching sponge rubber or corner buffers. If necessary, remove precious and breakable ornaments.

Cupboards and drawers
• If the person with dementia constantly rummages in drawers and cupboards and relocates items, it may be necessary to lock some cupboards to prevent access to breakable or dangerous items, or prevent tampering with important papers. Wherever possible, choose cupboards that are above eye level and use discreet locks.
• On the other hand, provide ready access to other cupboards, drawers, boxes and containers with safe items and interesting collections of things that trigger memories for the person or provide activity, textures and colours for stimulation.
• Many people with dementia lose access to their possessions because they can no longer remember how to use cupboards. Some of the things that are stored in desks and cupboards could be put out occasionally to see if the person has any interest in looking at them and in sorting through them.
• Remove sharp objects if they are likely to cause harm. This might include tools for an open fire, letter openers, scissors or bottle openers.

General decor and ornaments

• Remove any pictures, mobiles or glass hangings if they are disturbing.
• Sometimes patterns on wallpaper, curtains and upholstery can be disturbing for people with dementia, especially if they are prone to hallucinations, because they are mistaken for objects or insects. Try hanging a print with a soothing scene from nature. Some people enjoy wall hangings with different textures to touch.
• Retain or display photos, ornaments and other memorabilia that trigger memories. Photos could be labelled with names and relationships. Try showing old photos of the person's childhood.
• Photos of the person at recent events and with friends and relatives could be used to reinforce their sense of identity and recent memory.
• Try to find out the way the person's house was decorated when they were younger. Some of those styles or items from the past may provide some comfort now.
• The person's own paintings, craft, or needlework could be framed or displayed to support the person's sense of self esteem and to provide positive conversation topics for visitors.

When redecorating, it is important to retain the familiar and change as little as possible.  But do reduce confusing clutter and enhance memories and comfort.

There are different approaches to the use and recognition of colour for people with dementia:-
• Pastel colours are seen as grey, therefore strong bright primary colours are recommended
• Too many bright colours might, however, be distracting and uncomfortable and soft or moderate tones are suggested

Whatever colours are chosen, they can also be used to camouflage exits or rooms which are not safe for the person to enter by painting doors the same colour as walls. Painting doors in a colour which contrasts with the walls can make the door stand out and help people find the door. Matt paint should be used to avoid reflected glare.

Some people decorate the front door if they are living in a block of flats where all the doors look the same. Similarly a sign or picture of a toilet on the toilet door can help. If the doors in your home are all the same colour, leave them open so the person can see clearly into the rooms.

Did you know?

Dementia is sometimes mistakenly considered to be one disease, but it is actually a group of diseases that affect people in many different ways. Just as there are different types of heart disease or cancer, there are different types of dementia.