Unfamiliar surroundings can make us experience many difficult emotions including stress and anxiety. Losing the ability to retain new memories may mean an unfamiliar place will always be unfamiliar no matter much time you spend there.
Being disorientated is a common problem people face when living with dementia. Many will move into care from the long- familiar surroundings of their own home to somewhere they will never be able to confidently or consistently recognise.
In our day to day lives, familiarity with our surroundings helps us recognise where we are and how to carry out many daily tasks and we employ sensory cues as associations with objects and places. A simple example is the smell of food telling us the kitchen is nearby.
Awareness of the importance of sensory cues should prompt us to actively employ them as a means to reinforce way-finding and orientation in otherwise unfamiliar places.
To address this effectively we can make use of reliable, existing memories. We can tap into these by learning about the past of an individual, a community and the surrounding area. Armed with this knowledge we can source pictures of local scenes, workplaces and landmarks and find out what films, music and activities were popular at the appropriate time. Incorporating elements like these into the surroundings is quite simply an injection of familiarity. Quite suddenly, a place that was permanently confusing begins to make sense.
Introducing familiar themes is a great start, but these need reinforcing with way-finding support. Street names on corridors are a great idea as they also call upon reliable memories of the locality, but we need to introduce additional elements too.
By definition ‘new’ elements are unfamiliar, but we can address this by making them easy to locate, interpret and understand. This defines how appropriate signage needs to work. Way-finding signage and information displays have the potential to be beneficial and comforting, but only if they are of appropriate design and content.
The interior colour scheme, furnishings and lighting are all vital for people to be able to find their way around and maintain their independence. Well designed, these enhance the ability to interact successfully and more easily with ones surroundings.
Items that reflect a person’s identity are vital too, especially when adapting to a new environment. This is of most importance in a persons own space of course, but Memory boxes outside a resident’s room are great aids for way-finding and recognition and also tell others valuable things about the person who lives there.
Successful orientation strategies help residents to be less challenged by these two basic questions; ‘Where I am now’, and ‘where do I want to be’
At The Care Home Designer, our aim is to create homes that are smart, attractive, effective, great to work and live in, highly rated, desirable, and in demand. We want to make every home, regardless of size, the best it can be in every sense.
Our dementia – specific strategies are based on experience and are backed by academic findings as those published by the University of Worcester, Hammond Care and others.
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