Living with dementia magazine December 2011/ January 2012
Better at home
From finding reputable tradesmen to helping to create a safe and secure environment, Rachael Doeg finds out how home improvement agencies can help people with dementia to live in their own homes for longer.
Sue Sinclair has managed Hyndburn Homewise Society, a not-for-profit home improvement agency in Lancashire, for 24 years. It helps people in the borough of Hyndburn to improve, repair and maintain their own homes so they can live independently as long as they want to.
The agency offers practical help and advice with home improvements, minor and major repairs, adaptations and general maintenance. It also offers a free handyperson service to people aged over 60, free homesafe checks and advice on energy efficiency. It can also recommend reliable local tradesmen.
Homewise advises on creating a familiar, safe and secure home environment, which Sue believes can help to maintain independence and improve quality of life.She says,
'We like to make sure the home environment is predictable and makes sense to people, and that there are no surprises that could disorientate them. We have to understand where that person is in relation to their illness at the time and build the environment around them, possibly simulating an environment that's familiar in their long-term memory so that they won't have to ask, "Where am I?" or "Where am I going?"'
Sue worries that people are prescribed drugs because they are perceived as disruptive.
'I recently heard a story about a note that had been left in front of a lady with dementia in a care home. It read, "Please keep quiet and don't bang the table". That is absolutely appalling. If you can make the environment safe, secure and familiar so people feel happier then they may not become distressed or agitated and won't feel like having to bang the table.'
'Thoughtful measures such as creating a safe environment can have a huge impact on a person's well-being and reduce the need for medication.'
Here, Sue shares some tips on simple things that people can do to support a person with dementia in their own home.
- A different coloured light switch against a plain wall can make it easier to identify.
- Plain, continuous colour on the floor can aid mobility.
- A change in style or colour may be perceived as a barrier and cause confusion.
- Patterned carpets can also cause distress as patterns can be seen as holes.
- Coloured doors can help people recognise a door against a wall. Visual signs on doors may also help people understand what's behind them, such as a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door.
- Glass cupboard doors can help people to see what's inside and prompt them to make a drink, for example.
- Alternatively, cupboards can be replaced with shelves so cups and tins are easy to see.
- Large cupboard handles can encourage people to open them more easily.
- Simplify the environment to make daily tasks easier, such as putting names on tins for tea, coffee and sugar.
- Lists can help prompt memory about day-to-day tasks and increase independence.
- Mirrors can cause problems as people may not recognise their own reflection and so become distressed, particularly at night.
- Consider putting names on pictures and family photos to help recall.
- Decorating the home in a style similar to a house the person used to live in may help them to feel more secure. Charity shops often have second hand furniture or can source it cheaply.
- Put out personal things and objects from the past that the person can relate to. There may be things in the attic or in storage.
- Separate taps for hot and cold water rather than modern mixer taps can help people to distinguish them more easily.
- A different coloured toilet seat can help people to use the toilet.
'It's about looking at the little things that can be done to help people feel more comfortable, safe and secure in their home environment. I know a family whose mother came to live with them and she'd get up from her chair and go in the wrong direction to the toilet. They realised she was imagining being in the semi-detached house she used to live in, so moved the furniture around a bit and it helped.'
Find a local agency
For the location of your nearest agency in England, contact Foundations on 0845 864 5210 or see www.foundations.uk.com
If you are in Wales, you can contact Care & Repair Cymru on 0300 111 3333 or visit www.careandrepair.org.uk
In Northern Ireland, contact Fold Housing Association on 028 9042 8314 or see www.foldgroup.co.uk