Interior Design for Alzheimer’s

By:  Shawn Rader.  When building and furnishing a memory care facility,  it is important to understand the impact of colors and furnishings on people with Alzheimer’s disease.  

 In the February 11th issue of the Orlando Sentinel,  an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer was included covering the work of an interior designer who has studied how design helps or hurts Alzheimer’s residents.  While the thrust of the article was design changes to be made to a home to increase the time an Alzheimer’s person can remain at home,  the principles are applicable to memory care facilities as well.

Alzheimer’s affects the part of the brain that organizes visual images,  and many people with the disease have a difficult time perceiving colors,  contrasts and depth. 

For example,  contrasts in flooring, like a light rug on a dark wood floor might appear to be an elevation change.  A patterned rug might appear as uneven terrain,  and small tiles might look like scattered objects needing to be picked up.  Moreover,  a unicolor bathroom can lead to the resident using the waste basket instead of the commode.  A white wall with white tile floor and white commode makes it hard for the Alzheimer’s resident to distinguish anything that is white,  so painting a dark color behind the toilet is a helpful step. 

Keeping uniform lighting throughout the day reduces confusion.  Dark shadows can appear as an abyss,  which is why some facilities place black rugs in front of doors to keep the resident from wandering off.

Finally,  keeping essentials out and visible is a help.

In short,  trying to see the world through the eyes of the Alzheimer’s resident and adapting design elements accordingly will make for a safer and happier resident.


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