Our 'Ask an expert' column tackles how to make homes safer for people with dementia.
Q: 'My sister has dementia and I've noticed that her house is quite dark with a lot of clutter. How can we make her home safer and better for her?'
Simple changes to the home can make a big difference for a person with dementia. More suitable surroundings could help your sister's independence, confidence and day-to-day activities.
It's important to involve your sister in this wherever possible, and to think about what she's used to. Could some changes cause her distress? If someone has been in their house for 30 years and it has looked the same all that time, change could be more confusing.
Dementia can cause problems with vision and how someone interprets what they're seeing, so lighting is important. This is in addition to changes in how well we can see as we get older.
Good lighting will help your sister see and move about her surroundings. Poor lighting can cause anxiety and increase the risk of trips and falls.
Make the most of natural light by removing anything that blocks it and keeping windows clean. Use brighter bulbs if this will be safe (you may need to check if the socket has a wattage limit) or add extra lighting. A motion sensor or timer could light up some areas automatically.
Using bright and contrasting colours can help everyone see more clearly. This becomes more important as we age or as dementia develops.
Use higher contrasts to bring out the things your sister needs to see. This could be a black seat on a white toilet or light switches that contrast with the wall. Lower contrasts can reduce confusion if a difference doesn't need to be highlighted – for example, carpets varying between rooms or rugs on floors.
Clutter can make it difficult to find things and may mean a greater risk of falls and other accidents. Your sister could also feel less confident moving around because of it.
But remember that what looks like clutter to you might be a helpful system she uses, such as tea, spoons and mugs on one side in the kitchen. Again, involve your sister as much as possible. There could be solutions – like a magazine rack or special bowl – that help her to find important items.