Equipment, adaptations and improvements to the home

2. Types of equipment

Types of equipment designed to help older people with problems in general are often very useful for people with dementia. These include mobility aids and equipment for maintaining continence. There are also many products available specifically designed to address the needs of people with dementia, such as memory aids.

To find out who can offer advice on these various pieces of equipment see ‘How to get hold of equipment’, below.

Difficulty remembering things

There are a range of different types of memory aids for helping people to remember the date, appointments, shopping lists and other things. These include noticeboards where people can write messages and reminders, and clocks with large faces that are easier to read. (For more high-tech solutions, page: Assistive technology – devices to help with everyday living.)

Dementia may cause someone to forget when to take medication. Equipment such as dosette boxes – boxes with a pill compartment for each day of the week – can help. Dosette boxes are more suitable for people in the earlier stages of dementia because the person needs to know what day of the week it is. Automatic pill dispensers, which are electronic and pre-programmable, may be more suitable for those with more advanced memory difficulties.

Difficulty washing and bathing

Some people may have difficulty getting into and out of baths, or problems sitting down or standing up from the bottom of the bath tub. Transfer benches, grab rails or bath steps may be useful in this situation. There are also various hoists available which use pulleys to lower and raise a person into and out of a bath. If adapting an existing bath is not suitable, a walk-in bath can also be fitted. Bath seats and bath boards (which lie across the top of the bathtub, allowing a person to sit) can help someone to wash inside the bath tub.

Toilet problems and continence

Many people find that a raised toilet seat and grab rails make the toilet more accessible. Some people with dementia may lose continence, which can be distressing and embarrassing. Equipment such as commodes, bedpans, and waterproof mattresses and pillows can help people to manage incontinence. Pads and pull-up incontinence pants are also widely used. For more on incontinence aids see page: Managing toilet problems and incontinence.

Difficulties eating and drinking

Dementia may affect a person’s co-ordination or swallowing and, as a result, their ability to use cutlery and to eat and drink as before.

The person may benefit from equipment such as cutlery with large, contoured handles that are easier to grip, and non-spill cups with (often two) large handles or fittings for long or non-return straws. (These are straws that do not let liquid travel back down, making it easier to drink.)

Difficulties performing household tasks (eg cooking)

Difficulties with movement and co-ordination may impair a person’s ability to cook for themselves. There is kitchen equipment available to make cooking easier and safer. One example is a kettle tipper – a frame which allows hot water to be poured safely, at a constant rate and without the need to lift the kettle. Other kitchen equipment includes grip extensions for controls on ovens and other appliances (which ordinarily may be hard for a person with dementia to adjust), height-adjustable cupboards and other adapted kitchen tools.

Other household activities such as cleaning, ironing and washing-up may be made easier with perching stools. These are special seats that allow someone to sit while performing household tasks.

Difficulties walking and moving

There are lots of different walking sticks, walking frames and wheelchairs to help people keep mobile and independent. People with limited mobility may often encounter difficulties moving position or place, for example from a bed to a chair. Equipment collectively known as ‘transfer aids’ can help here. An example of a transfer aid is a transfer turntable. This is a base that rotates, on which a person can stand and be swivelled. Chairs and beds can be adapted to make them height-adjustable. Hoists use pulleys and slings to help raise or lower people (for example, from or into bed). Many hoists are mobile so that they can be moved and used in different rooms.

Adaptations and improvements

Adaptations and improvements are changes made to a person’s home to make it easier, safer and more comfortable to live in. The home set-up also supports them to cope better with the difficulties they experience, makes them more independent, and improves their orientation. Adaptations range from putting up grab rails or adding ramps or wide doors for wheelchairs, to installing specially designed shower and toilet facilities, or changing the design of the home to make it more dementia friendly. Improvements or repairs could also include draught-proofing or improving heating systems.

Who will pay for these changes depends on how extensive any required work is. Equipment such as walking frames and minor adaptations such as grab rails may be provided free by social services. Bigger adaptations such as accessible toilet facilities are arranged through the council and are provided on a means-tested basis, meaning you may have to pay, depending on your income or savings.

Dementia-friendly design

As well as helping with mobility, adaptations can also make the person’s home more ‘dementia friendly’. For example, handrails, signage (eg signs for the toilet or bathroom) and extra lighting can make it easier for the person to find their way around the house.

Lighting is particularly important. Lots of light is needed in the kitchen or bathroom to keep these rooms safe. Lights that come on automatically may help prevent falls if the person gets out of bed and walks about at night.
Designs and patterns can affect people with dementia, particularly those who have problems with perception.

Using contrasting colours around the home is a good way of making doorways, furniture and other items clearer and easier for people with dementia to locate and identify. In the same way, using contrasting colours for the items below make them easier to use:

  • cutlery, crockery and tablecloths
  • toilet seats in a different colour to the bowl
  • handrails, towels and soap that contrast with the rest of the bathroom.

Contrasting colours for doors and door frames can be particularly helpful for a person with dementia, as can labelling cupboard doors with a picture of what is kept inside.

Some patterns and surfaces can cause problems for people with dementia, and should be avoided. Patterned carpets, for example, can be mistaken for uneven ground. Shiny surfaces and mirrors can also be confusing as someone may not realise that what they are seeing is a reflection. Removing these types of surfaces and patterns will help to make a place more dementia friendly.

For more on these topics see Alzheimer’s Society free booklet, Making your home dementia friendly.