A bright red berry wreath greets visitors at the front door of The Apartment, a new, specially-created studio in the New York City headquarters of the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. It’s been designed to model ways to help people with dementia feel reassured, calmer, confident or safer.
A distinctive door decoration, for example, acts as a memory-jogger that signals, “Yup, this is your home.”
“So many simple ideas and new devices and gadgets can help people continue to live independently,” says Jennifer Reeder, AFA’s director of education and services. Some 6.2 million people with Alzheimer’s live at home—more than in nursing homes. Changes like these can be life-changers:
Cheap (or even free!) changes to make home dementia-friendly
Paint walls blue where you want to encourage relaxing, such as the bedroom and bathroom. Bright yellow, orange, and red can be agitating.
Alzheimer’s affects sight, making things look flat, Reeder says. Drawer handles or knobs in different colors (like white on dark wood) make them stand out when depth-perception changes. A dark placemat under a light plate draws attention, a reminder to keep eating.
To reassure and to boost mood, display family photos and mementoes, vintage magazines from youth or midlife or decorations that echo the person’s happy places, such the beach, a cabin or a favorite country.
Write “socks” with a matching picture on a label on the sock drawer. Transfer foods like coffee, cereal or dried pasta to clear containers with similar tags.
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Soft throw pillows and blankets provide sensory comfort. Solids tend to be less disorienting than patterns (also true for tablecloths and shower curtains).
Dark mat at the door
Some people with Alzheimer’s see a dark mat as a hole and won’t step there—handy if the person is prone to wandering out. Likewise, remove dark bathmats where they could make the person resist a bath or shower.
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Lower-cost improvements to make home dementia-friendly
Inexpensive adaptive utensils help stabilize the arm and hand for those with tremors, common in dementia. For sensitive gums, try spoons and forks with coated tips.
Wide ergonomic handles reduce spills.
Large-text digital clock
A model with the date, time and day of the week helps someone with orientation trouble.
Kitchen chair pads
A bright color guides where to sit and adds protection from incontinence accidents.
When a cellphone is too confusing, a simple corded line like those from Future Call make telephoning easier: You can put a photo of a loved one above each number, with one-touch speed dial. It can be set to receive calls only, helpful for those who forgetfully dial over and over.
Simple universal TV remote
Who hasn’t dreamt of a remote with just a few large buttons you can pre-program?
Install battery-operated lights that guide the way from bed to bathroom to guard against falls.
Related: Kimberly Williams-Paisley Says Her Mother’s Battle With Alzheimer’s Disease Taught Her to Say ‘Yes’ to Life
Pricier (but worth it) improvements to make home dementia-friendly
Circadian light bulbs
These change in ways that encourage natural sleep-wake rhythms: Alertness-enhancing blue-spectrum lighting by day, dimming to sleep-promoting amber by night.
Clear-fronted kitchen cabinets
Replacing doors with glass so the person with dementia can see inside aids memory recall.
Smoke and CO2 detectors
Because the sense of smell diminishes with Alzheimer’s, these are a must. New smart alarms like Google Nest Protect use a friendly voice to warn of danger and alert care partners of a problem or to change batteries—without the scary beeping.
Forgetting to turn off the stove is a common hazard. These burners, which easily replace electric coils, automatically shut off before they get too hot to burn oil—or pots!
When it’s unsafe for a person to cook at all, a lightweight aluminum stove cover can hide burners completely—out of sight, out of mind.
Electric tea kettle
This safer way to make coffee or tea eliminates boiling water and shuts off on its own.
A camera inside lets family see if food is being consumed, and a screen on the door lets you post messages and reminders. In the AFA model apartment: Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerator.
Where to find products to help make home more dementia-friendly
Google product types to quickly see examples and where to buy them. Or check the Product List in AFA’s downloadable PDF.
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