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The Impact of the Dementia Care Environment Hero

The Impact of the Dementia Care Environment

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Are you ‘staged’ for success?

When is the last time you evaluated the care environment?  Have you ever looked around with a critical eye while assessing if the lighting is too harsh or if there is excessive ambient noise? 

Have you ever taken a pause during your hectic day to determine if there are items or objects within the caregiving space that could be directly obstructing your success as a caregiver? 

Regardless of whether you are a paid professional or a valued family member providing care; most Dementia caregivers tend to stay focused on all the caregiving ‘tasks’ required to get through each day without recognizing that the care environment could actually be working against your best efforts. 

Being purposeful in both designing and maintaining the caregiving setting is crucial for overall success for those living with Dementia. 

In a Professional Setting 

The physical environment should enhance the quality of life for those living with Dementia. The layout of the space should foster free movement while the finishing touches and operational systems positively improve outcomes for those in your care.

For example, having a Dementia dining room near the front entrance of the community where people are continuously coming and going throughout the day, creates a disruptive atmosphere. Distractions like this can be significantly over stimulating and negatively impact mealtime success. 

Another example is the (dreaded) overhead paging system in a professional setting.  Not only is that disturbing the tranquil environment we seek in Dementia care; but announcements made throughout the day can increase confusion for those living with Dementia. 

In a Private Family Home

The noble goal of many families providing care for an aging loved one with Dementia, is to keep them in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.  If that’s the plan, then it’s critical for the care environment to be continuously evaluated and often tweaked to ensure safety and success. 

Family homes are filled with memories, treasures and trinkets from lives well lived. However, if the treasures turn into piles scattered throughout the space and the trinkets have sharp edges or are easily breakable; these conditions create a stressful caregiving environment for both the caregiver and the care receiver. 

Keep in mind that your loved one’s cognitive decline will increase as their Dementia journey progresses.  Additionally, issues with vision, hearing and movement may also arise. Thus, you may be unwittingly creating an unsafe environment they can’t navigate. Yet, maintaining safety in a home setting is paramount for overall success. 

Access to the Outdoors

In both professional settings and a family home environment, the availability for safe outdoor enjoyment should be considered. Having easy access to the outdoors is not only good for promoting movement and overall wellness, but interestingly it has a positive impact on those folks who ‘exit seek’ or make multiple ‘departure attempts’ throughout each day. 

Not only is the change of scenery beneficial but, the fresh air, positive sensory stimulation and the natural source of vitamin D from the sun are all proven holistic interventions for those with Dementia. 

More Tips for Success

  • Avoid busy flooring patterns. Most notably in carpeting. Patterns often cause unwanted confusion in those with Dementia which can lead to a higher potential for falls
  • Avoid unsecured area rugs or layers of rugs/carpeting. A significant safety hazard for aging bodies with Dementia
  • Include textured design elements. Things like ‘Comfort Cushions’ for those who fidget, easy access baskets filled with soft balls, fabric or squeezable items or 3-dimensional wall art/murals are a few ideas for safe, yet functional décor that can enhance the care environment. 
  • Ample natural light. Be sure to open the shades/curtains during daytime hours. Natural light supports day/night confusion that can arise during the Dementia journey. Moreover, having a visual sightline to the outdoors can provide positive sensory stimulation. 

Don’t underestimate the power of having a care environment that supports both the person living with Dementia and their care partners. Purposeful architectural elements, functional interior design and décor and inviting outdoor areas are fabulous first-steps to creating a nurturing Dementia care environment. 

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  • Written by Ellen Belk

    Ellen Belk, CDP is a ‘Silver’ Living Strategist and Founder of Keep In Mind, a consulting company offering a suite of services to the long term living industry and product developers in the aging space. A recognized Dementia expert specializing in holistic solutions, Belk’s four-pillar philosophy recognizes Communication, Environment, Nutrition and Engagement as a first-line of defense for quality care. She’s the inventor of Memory Magz® which are magazine-style picture publications for those with Dementia. And the author of The 360 System.™ This guide for professionals is based on her copy written TEAM approach for Championship Level Operations and Outcomes in Long Term Living.

    When she finds free time, Belk can be found outdoors, hiking, biking or nurturing her garden. She and her husband Dan live in South Carolina.

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