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Money & Rights

Make your home dementia-friendly

John Ramsay,chief executive and founder of Shift8*, explains how small changes in the home can make a big difference to people with dementia

The Alzheimer's Society estimates that by 2025, the number of people with dementia in the UK will top one million, and as the condition has become more widespread thankfully our understanding of it has dramatically increased.

Where memory loss was once believed to be a natural part of ageing, we now know this is not always the case. It is, in fact, a key early sign of dementia, alongside other associated symptoms such as confusion, poor judgement and difficulty with movement.

As we’ve become more informed, we’ve been able to pinpoint where areas of improvement are desperately needed, particularly when it comes to caring for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Making sure a loved one is comfortable and safe in their own home for as long as possible is the first step to ensuring they enjoy a higher quality of life.

Storage

Dementia works like a bookcase, with the books representing memories, facts and information you’ve acquired since you were born. At the top of the bookcase are the most recent memories, whereas the books at the bottom represent longer-term memories. When you have dementia, the bookcase begins to rock, and you start to lose books from the top shelves. As you progress on your journey, more books from different shelves begin to fall, reflecting how your short-term and long-term memories are both affected.

When it comes to storing items, it’s vital to remember this analogy. Try to keep items stored in the same place they’ve always been in. If a loved one has lived in their home for 30 years, they are more likely to remember older memories of their home, rather than newer ones. So work collectively with your loved one if you are planning to reorganise or redecorate.

Reminiscence

Triggering happy memories can spark conversations, enabling people to open up and bond. Putting photographs of family members and friends around the house, as well as images that bring back fond memories, is a great way to spark reminiscences.

Remembering hobbies and interests that your loved one previously enjoyed, and encouraging them to take part in these for as long as possible, is also crucial. Whether it’s playing chess, watching a favourite black and white film or reading a special magazine, it’s a way to create ‘moments of happiness’ within the home.

Calendar

Dementia can cause some confusion when it comes to remembering key dates and appointments. It can become overwhelming for anyone with dementia when they struggle to recall agreed meetings or when visitors pop by seemingly unexpectedly.

A large, easy-to-use, print calendar is a great way to keep all important information in one place, from upcoming events and regular doctor’s appointments to special occasions. This way, your loved one can turn to their calendar when they need a reminder of the week’s activities.

Contrasting colours and lightning

Research has proved natural lighting has positive benefits within the home. As simple as this may sound, natural light is a key differentiator between day and night, which can at times become blurred for an individual with dementia. As well as aiding your natural body clock, it’s also great to increase vitamin D levels and provides a boost to your mood. For an individual with dementia, natural lighting within the home is crucial.

As well as lighting, contrasting colours are important when it comes to safety. Avoiding bold, high-contrast patterns on the floor ensures an individual feels safe and secure. Stripes and chequered patterns can at times appear as holes in the ground for someone with dementia, so it’s vital for you to consider these aspects.

Technology

As awareness surrounding dementia has increased, so has innovative, problem-solving technology that is enabling sufferers to experience ‘moments of happiness’. One example is an interactive light game, Tovertafel, or ‘The Magic Table’, as it is more commonly known.

The technology is installed in care homes as well as community spaces such as libraries and hospitals, encouraging those playing the games to interact with one another. Although this is often not installed in individual homes, it’s worth exploring community spaces to locate your nearest Tovertafel as it is an excellent activity.

A safe haven...

When it comes to dementia, people tend to search to correct the situation. However, what’s really important is actually to maintain a meaningful, high quality of life for as long as possible. Focusing on creating a safe haven for your loved one is crucial and a fantastic place to start.

Ultimately, when it comes to dementia, we need to focus on what the individual can achieve, not what they can’t.

This can be a huge stepping stone for loved ones as it places more emphasis on the quality of life.

John Ramsay set up the company Shift 8* to improve the lives of those living with dementia after caring for his father. John was previously a corporate lawyer at Linklaters LLP , and also worked at Unilever and Goldman Sachs.

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