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5 ways to make your lounge safe for someone with dementia

Find out how to keep your loved one cosy, comfortable and safe in their living room

It’s the room they’re likely to spend a great deal of time in. So it’s really important that the living room is a pleasant place to be filled with photos and furniture that mean a lot to them – as well as a practical space to get around easily.

Challenge:  Dim lighting

Why: Muted lighting in a living room is often considered restful, but elderly people generally need stronger, brighter lights to see properly. As you get older, your eyes take longer to adapt between areas of light and dark, so if the lights are low and produce dark patches or shadows , it can be disturbing and confusing.

Solve it:

* Ensure that the living room is well lit throughout and that windows  let in as much natural daylight as possible. If the person you’re caring for suffers from depression or SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) A lightbox can be useful for helping to boost their mood. Studies have shown that bright light therapy (using the specially designed lights) can also help to reduce feelings of agitation and improve sleep patterns.

* It might also be worth buying a bright reading light that can be angled to help them focus on close-up activities such as knitting or reading.

Challenge: Using technology

Why: Fancy televisions and remote controls (not to mention the many associated DVD players and digital set top boxes) can be  complex and confusing to operate for anyone, but if you have dementia they might be particularly daunting. Likewise, fiddly buttons on telephones (landlines and mobiles) can be tricky to use. Finding the right numbers and or mis-dialling is also a common issue.

Solve it:

* Choose a remote control that has large, simple buttons – power, volume and channel – to reduce confusion when using the television. If the person with dementia gets confused by the sheer number  of channels available on digital TV networks, you can often set up a list of favourites, or even delete unpopular channels so they don’t appear (and which can be restored if you rescan the TV).

*Consider buying a simplified phone, which has large, clear buttons, an amplified ringer and caller display, and a simple phone book that makes it easy to pick who they need to talk to. You can even get phones that let you use pictures of important family members or carers if they’re struggling to read names.

Challenge: Finding chairs that are easy to get out of

It’s easy to become attached to a favourite armchair or sofa, especially if you’ve had it for years. But if the person you’re caring for struggles to get out of it, you might want to think carefully about replacing it. Having trouble getting out of a chair can mean they delay going to go to the bathroom as often as they need, or to the kitchen to make a drink or a meal. These sort of difficulties can really affect their quality of life.

Solve it

* Investigate chair raisers which lift up furniture so they don’t have to bend down as far to be seated. Special rise and recliner chairs are a bigger investment, and if it’s going to make their day to day life easier (and yours) it might be worth the money.

* If mobility is an issue, walking frames and sticks can help them navigate the room itself, but remember to think about floor coverings such as rugs or steps. They could prove a tripping hazard, so it’s worth removing them, or making it very clear if there’s a step down.

Challenge: Muted colour schemes

Why: People with dementia find it harder to see colour contrasts. For example, they might find it hard to tell the difference between cream and white. So if the living room is decorated in muted colours, from the floors to the furniture, it can become very difficult for them to see things clearly, and this can lead to trips and falls. As people get older, generally, their eyesight and ability to distinguish colours can deteriorate – it can seem like they’re looking at everything through a yellow filter.

Solve it: You don’t have to start redecorating or replacing all the furniture (that would be too confusing anyway). Instead, ensure that furniture contrasts with the floors and walls by using colourful soft furnishings. For example, a favourite armchair can have a brightly coloured cushion cover or throw tucked into the seat to make it easier to see.

Challenge: Confusing furnishings

Why: Highly patterned sofas, curtains and carpets can also be confusing and disturbing for someone with dementia. For example, carpets which are striped can be seen as steps, which could cause them to try to step up or down, and fall.

Mirrors can also cause confusion if they fail to recognise themselves in the reflection. Imagine how distressed and agitated you might become if you thought a stranger was in your living room.

Solve it: Try to keep carpet the same colour throughout so it’s easy to see that the floor is level. Cover up mirrors or remove them and make sure that curtains are closed at night so that they can’t also see reflections in the windows when it’s dark outside.