Creating Dementia-Friendly Environments


In the UK there are around 850,000 people currently living with dementia. In line with global estimates, this number is set to triple by 2050. There is no known cure yet for dementia and as the disease progresses, the symptoms get worse making everyday living harder for people suffering from disease.

As a large number of people with dementia live in the community, it is important that the local community including local businesses are able to support them. This support is not only around how you and your team communicate with them for example by becoming a dementia friend but also about how you can make small changes to the pharmacy environment that can help people with dementia to feel more comfortable.

What Is Dementia?

Dementia is not a disease on its own but rather a general term conditions associated with a decline in memory, language and problem-solving skills. It also involves any other cognitive abilities that can affect how someone performs normal daily tasks. Memory loss is just an example as Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia. In fact, it accounts for 60 to 80 per cent of cases.

Signs Of Dementia

While symptoms of dementia may vary from person to person, some of the most common examples include the following:

  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty doing familiar tasks
  • Being confused about time or place
  • Challenges understanding visual information
  • Problems speaking or writing
  • Misplacing things
  • Poor judgment or decision-making
  • Withdrawal from socializing
  • Changes in personality or mood

The Importance Of Creating A Dementia-Friendly Home

One can understand the importance of a dementia-friendly home considering the above limitations. How you design and lay out your home can have a massive impact on someone suffering from dementia.

Seeing as the most common symptoms are memory loss, confusion and difficulty learning new things, someone with dementia can easily forget where they are, where they have put something important or how things work.

Although you should not make drastic changes overnight, there are a few simple things you can do to help them continue living as independently as possible at home. The first thing that a person with dementia should do is get a needs assessment which is available from their local council.

Tips On How To Adapt Your Home

Due to dementia being more common among the elderly, they should have regular eye tests to better identify and respond to potential hazards. While eye tests are an essential part of the process, let’s look at how you can adapt your home.

Improve Lighting Around The House

Most dementia patients, especially the elderly, can benefit from adding better lighting. Not only does this help them avoid confusion but it can also reduce their risk of falling. Here are a few tips on how to improve the lighting:

  • Start by doing whatever you can to reduce glare, shadows and reflections
  • There should be good, even and natural lighting
  • Open the curtains during the day
  • Remove any unnecessary nets and blinds
  • Ensure that hedges and trees are cut back if they block sunlight entering from the window

Good lighting is particularly important on the stairs and in the toilet with simple-to-use and easily accessible light switches. You could also consider automatic light sensors which will turn on the lights automatically when passes the sensor.

Pay Attention To The Flooring And Colours Around The Home

As far as possible, avoid carpets or mats as it could lead to people tripping. Someone with dementia could think they should step over the rug or mat which can be dangerous. You also shouldn’t have shiny or reflective flooring as it may appear wet and they may struggle to walk over it. The best flooring to use is matt and in a contrasting colour to the walls.

  • Use bright or bold coloured furniture and furnishings that don’t clash with the walls and floors
  • Colours on doors and bannisters should make them stand out more
  • The toilet seat should be a different colour than the rest of the bathroom
  • Crockery should be a different colour to the tablecloth or table to clearly distinguish plates and dishes
  • Don’t use bold patterns and stripes as they can be quite confusing and disorientating

Labels Or Signs, And Reflections

It may sound simple but using labels or signs can be particularly helpful. Placing them on cupboards, doors, on the toilet sign and the bathroom or toilet door. Make sure that signs are clear and have words that match an appropriate picture in a contrasting colour to the background.

Signs should be placed slightly lower than normal as many elderly people tend to look down. You could also consider placing photos on cupboards and drawers to indicate the contents. A great alternative is to use see-through cupboard doors as are able to see what’s inside.

In terms of reflections, beware that it’s best to cover or remove mirrors if they could potentially cause confusion. Someone with dementia may become distressed if they don’t recognise themselves which can happen. Also, close curtains in the evening to stop them from seeing their reflection in the window.

Items That Help Dementia Patients At Home

There are several products you could use around the house and some for your business premises that are designed specifically to aid dementia sufferers. Some examples include:

  • Clocks with big, bright LCD displays showing the full date and time
  • Telephones with big buttons to make it easier to see and use
  • Devices that can remind them to take their medicine or to lock the front door
  • These products are also referred to as assistive technologies which can include Apps for smartphones and tablets

Helpful Resource: ‘Alzheimer’s Society online shop and AT Dementia

Guide For Gardens and All Outside Areas 

While being outside and getting fresh air can benefit people with dementia but make sure that the garden or outside is well-prepared. Check the following concerns have been met:

  • Are the walking surfaces flat to prevent any trips or falls?
  • Is the outdoor space secure to prevent someone from wandering off?
  • Are the flower beds raised to help people with restricted mobility tend to their garden?
  • Is there a sheltered seating area so they can enjoy extended periods of time outside?
  • Is the lighting adequate? Make sure any entrance to the garden and the way back are easy to see.

Great additions to any garden, flower beds, herbs, bird feeders or bug boxes. They will attract wildlife into the garden which can help someone with dementia stay engaged.

What Can Businesses Do To Create A Dementia-Friendly Environment?

In terms of how a business can be more accommodating to people with dementia, the same principles apply. Below we’ve highlighted some of the core changes a business can make. Consider the layout when a business is being refurbished or refitted and try to design environments to be therapeutic and reduce stress.

Important Questions:

  • Are drop off bays right outside your entrance available for anyone who requires easy access?
  • Does your car park have gravel or bumpy tarmac that can be slippery?
  • Is there a clear entrance  that is clearly signed to your business?
  • Are the entrances well-lit while maintaining a good level of natural light?
  • If you have mats at the door are they in brighter colours rather than black?
  • Are all your light bulbs working so there are no shadows?
  • Do you have easily opening or automatic doors that staff can see through and support customers arriving?
  • If you have glass doors is there signage that makes it clear to customers that they are there?
  • Do you have seating areas  with chairs that look like chairs for people waiting?
  • Do you have a quiet area you could take someone if they are getting distressed by noise?
  • Are your signs clear, bold with good contrast between text and background?
  • Are signs at eye level and well-lit?

For more information, download the guide for businesses from the Alzheimer’s website.

Online Training With VirtualOutcomes

VirtualOutcomes have written online training modules to help support community pharmacies if you need additional information on dementia or the dementia-friendly environment checklist that forms part of the Pharmacy Quality Scheme (PQS). We offer further support for community pharmacies and other healthcare providers with training modules covering a wide range of other topics.

Please visit our website for more information and where you will also be able to purchase the Accredited Health Champion Training that is required for becoming a Healthy Living Pharmacy.