Visual Perception Issues in Dementia

December 7, 2010

I will begin this blog with a disclaimer:  I am not an interior designer.  However, I do know some things you can do with color and design that can help your loved one maintain her independence longer and make your life as a caregiver easier.

As various forms of dementia progress, they may cause the patient to have visual perception problems.  Notice that I didn’t say “sight” problems.  Often, patients can see perfectly well, but the way their brains interpret what they see malfunctions.  There are many simple things you can do to minimize the problems this causes and to help you in caregiving.  As time goes on, most dementia patients lose their ability to perceive things of similar color tone from one another.  THE KEY is color — highlighting those things you want the patient to see with contrasting colors and “hiding” those things you do not want the patient to notice with similar tones.

  1. If the wall behind a white commode and sink is painted a light color, the commode and sink may be “invisible” to the patient.  Paint the wall behind that same sink and commode a medium tone and suddenly, the sink and commode become “visible” again, hopefully allowing the patient to retain their independence longer.
  2. If you place light colored food (mashed potatoes, corn, light colored meats, etc.) on a light colored plate, or dark colored food on a dark colored plate, the food will be invisible to the patient.  Place that same food on a contrasting colored plate and the person may be able to maintain their independence in eating longer.
  3. If you fill a clear glass with water, the patient may not be able to see it.  Use a colored cup.
  4. If you place dark pants on a dark bedspread, they may be “invisible” to your loved one.  The same holds true for light colored clothes on light colored sheets.
  5. You can also use this “invisibility” to your advantage.  If you paint doors and door knobs the same color as the wall — or even continue a wallpaper border across a door painted the same color as the wall — the patient may not perceive that the door is there at all reducing the risk of wandering.  This may not be up to code for public buildings, but you can do anything you wish in your own home.
  6. Watch you tablecloth or placemat colors.  Make certain the plate doesn’t blend in with the background.

Other Interior Design Issues:

  1. Patterns tend to confuse dementia patients.  For instance, the pattern on the carpet may look like snakes to the dementia patient.  A patterned plate may keep the patient from eating.
  2. Shiny floor finishes (think tile or highly polished wood) may look like water or ice to the patient.  Dull finishes are best.
  3. A black mat in front of a door may look like a hole to the dementia patient.  Many people have placed black mats in front of the doors leading outside and eliminate their loved one’s problems with wandering away!
  4. Place a traffic stop sign on the inside of exterior doors.  Often the color, word or shape — one of the three — will reach the patient’s mind and keep them from exiting through the door.
  5. Place reflector tape from the patient’s bed to the bathroom and use a nightlight, so the bathroom path will be visible at night.
  6. Minimize shadows.  These can be frightening to dementia patients.

Remember, just like most abilities with dementia, visual perceptions issues may come and go.  The patient is not “faking” or missing things visually to spite the caregiver.

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