Interior Design in Care Homes by Jacqui Smith

Jacqui Smith is an experienced healthcare designer, running HomeSmiths with her husband, David.  She is an SBID Accredited Designer and Chair of her local Dementia Friendly Community.  Having permanently lost the sight in her left eye in 2012, Jacqui has personal experience of visual impairments and the role the built environment plays in supporting people with sensory loss.

Jacqui highlights the key elements of interior design to consider when planning and designing spaces for older people in care:

Interior Design in Care Homes – Where to Start?

The built environment plays a key role in the health and well-being of residents, affecting both their physical and mental health.  Good design can make the world of difference to how a resident, carer or relative will feel in a space. 

Like all design, function is the most important consideration.  A room might look beautiful but unless it serves the needs of the people spending time in it, and the furnishings and finishes have been chosen with practicality in mind, it will not “work”.  As we age, our senses deteriorate, and some people will experience cognitive impairment so the design must support these needs and enable residents to live as independently as possible for as long as possible.

I am a firm believer that care homes should be warm and homely, environments which residents can relate to and settle in quickly.  Whilst yes, the designs should have impact and an element of aspiration, I do not subscribe to the idea that care homes should emulate the 5-star hotel aesthetic.

 

Light

My starting point would be to maximise natural light wherever possible.  Window treatments should be dressed back from the window and at the same time allow strong daylight to be filtered when necessary, to avoid glare.  Well thought through artificial lighting is a worthwhile investment.  The wrong type of light can have an enormous impact on a scheme and greatly affect the colour rendering of furnishings and wall colours, and also how people feel in a space.  I see many care homes fitted with LED lights on the correct assumption that after the initial outlay, maintenance would be minimal, yet the fitting is a cool blue light LED which renders any furniture or finishes with warm red tones a far from uplifting muddy brown.  Light fittings should be diffused to avoid glare and flexible task lighting is a worthwhile addition to a scheme enabling residents to adjust light levels to suit their individual needs.

Lighting can also affect our body clock.  Different colours of light have varied wavelengths which the human body responds to in different ways.  The cool blue light of the morning kick starts our body clock; the presence of sunlight stimulates the brain to secrete cortisol which promotes a state of alertness, preparing us for the day.  As the light changes through the day and then fades to the warm yellow of dusk, we receive the cue to start thinking about winding down and ultimately falling asleep.  The science behind this cue is the hormone melatonin which the brain releases towards the end of the day, which causes us to feel drowsy.  White and blue based lights will inhibit the secretion of melatonin which will consequently interrupt our body clock, upsetting our usual sleep pattern.  So, a cool blue light in a care home dining room at the end of the day is not conducive to a relaxed and restful evening for residents.  Difficulties regulating the body clock are common in old age and particularly significant for people with dementia, so getting the lighting right is essential.

 

Colour Contrast

If I had to pick one thing which can make a huge difference in supporting independence in living environments for older people, it would be colour contrast.  Contrast between objects helps residents make sense of their environment and whilst it’s vital to apply this principle for people living with dementia, it also plays an important role in supporting those with age related sight issues.  Ensuring that there is visual contrast between critical surfaces will help a person with poor sight, be it through dementia or old age, navigate their environment as easily as possible.  Skirting painted to contrast with the floor will outline very clearly where the floor ends, and the wall begins.  Architrave painted to contrast with the wall will define where the door is.  For two surfaces to offer enough contrast they must have a 30-point difference in their LRV, Light Reflectance Value which is a measure of the amount of light which a surface reflects back into a room where the lighter the colour, the higher the index.  The same logic applies to light switches and fixings like grab rails in bathrooms.

Flooring

Whilst colour contrast can help define a room, contrast in adjacent flooring surfaces should be minimal.  A dark threshold strip or a dark floor mat against a paler toned floor can appear like a step to a person with dementia and might present a trip hazard.  Similarly, dark door mats can, to some people, look like a hole.  Ideally the flooring throughout the home should be the same colour regardless of the surface.

So, colour contrast comes into consideration in choice of surfaces, but the finish of those surfaces is also important.  Hard flooring must be anti-slip especially in wet areas such as bathrooms where an even higher anti-slip level is required.  It’s also important to select finishes that do not cause glare so better to avoid polished surfaces, choosing matt and brushed finishes instead.

 

Acoustics

Poor hearing is something that affects many older people and can in some cases lead to isolation and increase the speed of cognitive decline.  Interiors should be designed with acoustics in mind, maximising sound but minimising noise.  Think about position of kitchens and lifts in relation to resident areas and consider finishes choices such as acoustic flooring, noise absorbing window treatments and furniture such as room dividers which can help.

Decor and Furnishings

Furniture and décor should be relatable, and the layout of the room should encourage social interaction with clusters of seating, ideally with varying seat heights so that residents can select a chair which most meets their comfort needs.  Corridor seating is important, providing residents with resting places as they move from one part of the home to the other, encouraging them to be independent and sociable.

Colour itself plays an important role in designing for health and well-being.  The correct choice of colour can make an enormous difference to how a person experiences being in a certain room, affecting how they feel, behave and interact with others.

 

 

Art and accessories are often seen as a ‘nice’ to have but I do think they are an important part of a home; not only do they make it more domestic in feel, they can also be used to help residents remember where they are, as many people will navigate by objects rather than words or colour.  Which brings me on to wayfinding which should be enough to aid navigation but not ‘overkill’.  Wording on signs should be clear with an easy to read choice of font and good contrast; light text on a darker background is preferable because it’s easier for the ageing eye to see than dark on light.

By Jacqui Smith

Homesmiths Interior Design Services

 

 

Sport: have we forgotten it?

Sporting Memories

by Emma Harris

We’ve all experienced that feeling when our muscles remember how to do something we thought our minds had forgotten, perhaps riding a bike or swinging a tennis racket. We may assume that an individual with dementia soon loses access to these memories along with names, places or facts, but our motor memories (or muscle memories) are actually amongst the last parts of our brains to be affected by dementia. This means that an individual may still be able to recall movements stored long ago in their muscle memories. Lisa Krieger of Mercury News tells the story of Jim Byerlee, an 84-year-old living with dementia, who was taken to play golf by his care home staff. Jim was able to swing a golf club with all the accomplishment of a retired athlete.

The Sporting Memories Foundation
Intergenerational reminiscence with The Sporting Memories Foundation

Like Jim, everyone has been touched by sport in some way, whether playing it, watching it, on TV or attending live events. As Tony Jameson-Allen, co-founder and director of The Sporting Memories Foundation, says ‘You don’t have a choice, everyone has memories of sport’. Sporting Memories advocate the importance of sport, not only to keep older people active, but as a way to encourage positive emotions and a sense of community through reminiscence. They work with care homes, libraries and other communities to organise groups sessions at which older people can discuss their own experiences of sport. Sporting Memories provides resources and training to staff to help them trigger memories and draw on the positive emotional impact sport can have. As Jameson-Allen explains, ‘one of the best ways to spark memories is other people’s memories’; they focus on the strengths of people with dementia: their long-term memories.

Sporting Memories discovered that talking about sport motivated participants to be active, and now organises reminiscence sessions followed by physical activities, including walking, football and curling. Joyce, a 96-year-old erstwhile ice dancer, is one such motivated person. She was taken to an ice rink by a member of her care home staff and, by using an adaptive frame, was able to experience all the sensations of being on the ice again.

Physical movement can play a vital role in improving the quality of life of an individual with dementia. It encourages physical and mental stimulation, can prevent depression and assists with sleep. Many organisations have discovered the power of active care and the numerous ways it can be tailored for all ages and abilities.

Table tennis for dementia
The BAT Foundation offers a ‘drug-free’ therapy for Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Bat Foundation describes exercise, or more specifically table tennis, as a ‘drug free Alzheimer’s therapy’. As part of their research, a team of neurologists took MRI scans to compare the brains of people with dementia who play table tennis and those who don’t. The scans revealed that certain parts of the brain light up dramatically in those who had just played table tennis; the concentration and co-ordination required to play the game stimulates the hippocampus and can delay cognitive decline. As a result, they have designed a table tennis table specifically for people with dementia, using colour contrasts to aid sight and side panels to assist with play. Annie Ingram, a voracious player, comments, ‘I can do this, I’m loving it!’.

Another sport which appeals to all ages is swimming and is known to have a positive impact on people with dementia, particularly because water offers a feeling of being weightless, thereby relaxing the body. But a public pool may be a daunting environment for someone with dementia and their carer. The Dementia Friendly Swimming Project aims to make swimming pools a safe and welcoming environment for people with dementia. They work across the UK, creating a network of dementia-friendly pools by producing guidance and offering training to swimming staff to achieve this aim.

Dance, on the other hand, is an activity which can be brought directly into the care home. Alive!, based in Bristol, offer dance and movement sessions which focus on the potential this activity has to help older people express themselves when they are no longer able to fully communicate their feelings; it’s about using dance to interact with individuals through rhythm and music. Alive! also offer training programmes to staff to help them bring active care into their own care homes, and run ‘Active Care Forums’ across the South of England for anyone working with older people. Becoming a member of a forum is a great way to pool new ideas and share experiences, whilst also gaining access to training, support and resources on active care.

JABADAO is a somewhat more unusual organisation. SPAGOG, Seriously Playful Armchair Games for the Old and Gorgeous, is a league event which uses basic movements and games with the simple aim of making life better. This is how it works: JABADAO teach the games to carers to play with their residents, the carers return the scores to the organisation, and results are published online weekly so care homes, friends & family can see which team is leading. Two finalist teams play against each other for the famous SPAGOG cup. JABADAO specialise in creating activities for people in late stages of dementia, and offer training for carers to improve the non-verbal communications of these individuals. Contact JABADAO if you’d like organise a competition in your area.

All of the above organisations, and more – see links below – offer the opportunity not only to maintain or increase physical fitness, but to become part of a community and interact with others through a medium other than speech. As Tony Jameson-Allen says, ‘it’s about friendship and keeping people supported just as much as it is about sport itself’. When words are a struggle, it can be the things which do not require any words at all that can offer us the most support.

Resources:

The Bat Foundation
Deliver specialised table tennis Alzheimer’s therapy programme

Dementia-Friendly Swimming
Organisation working to make swimming pools across the UK welcoming for people with dementia

The Sporting Memories Foundation
Work with communities to organise group sessions to discuss sport

Dance and Dementia
Offer dance sessions to individuals or groups

Alzheimer’s Society: Exercise in the early to middle stages
Advice from the Alzheimer’s Society on exercise for those in early to middle stages of dementia

Alzheimer’s Society: Exercise in the later stages
Advice for those in later stages of dementia

Association for Dance Movement Pschotherapy UK
Resource to find dance movement therapist for individual or groups

The power of music

Updated January 2020.

Why does music have so much power? In a fascinating article the physician, neurologist and author Oliver Sacks, suggested this is a question that goes to the heart of being human. We turn to music, he said, because we need it, because of its ability to move us, to induce feelings and moods, states of mind.

We may still not know why, but those who work with people with autism or frontal lobe syndromes, and particularly with people with dementia, have recognised the power that music has to generate an emotional response, familiar music perhaps evoking memories of earlier events in people’s lives that cannot be reached any other way.

Research undertaken by the University of Iowa confirms the relevance of this for people living with dementia. UI researchers showed individuals with Alzheimer’s disease clips of sad and happy movies. Five minutes later, most were unable to recall any factual information about the films, and one person didn’t even remember watching any movies. Yet these people experienced sustained states of sadness and happiness.

The researchers concluded: “The fact that forgotten events can continue to exert a profound influence on a patient’s emotional life highlights the need for caregivers to avoid causing negative feelings and to try to induce positive feelings.”

Attempts to ensure an individual’s emotional wellbeing, therefore, should be at the heart of all care, and music is increasingly recognised as a powerful tool to assist in this aim. Of course, it has to be remembered that everyone is unique and what works for one person will not be appropriate for the next. A carer who likes nothing better than listening to hours of punk should not assume that those in their care feel the same way, equally, don’t assume that there isn’t a punk enthusiast amongst them either!

If we are looking for something to lift our mood, classical music is best, even if it’s not normally your favourite listening, according to Dr Mike Lowis. ‘In order to activate both sides of the brain, music needs to be complex so pop music and anything with a heavy beat doesn’t usually work,’ he says. (His study of peak experiences found that Wagner was more uplifting than Mozart.)

However, the inspirational and emotional story told in the American film Alive Inside, winner of the Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, would suggest that the true power of music is realised when particular tracks or genres are used to trigger memories and restore a sense of ‘self’, even in those with profound memory loss.

A quick story on how my husband continued to enjoy music as he neared the end of his life in a care home, rarely speaking, unable to do anything for himself, profoundly confused. As I prepared to say goodbye after one of my daily visits I asked him if he’d like any music on. He didn’t respond so I saw that a CD of one of his favourite musicians, Eric Clapton, was in the player and pressed the Play button, only to hear Geoff loudly lament “Not again!” as the sound of Clapton’s wonderful guitar playing filled the room. I had clearly not been the only lazy person in his room that day! It takes more than popping a CD into the player for music to work its magic. 

Fortunately, there are a growing number of organizations, campaigns and resources dedicated to making music an integral part of dementia care. We’ve included links to some of these below.

 

Resources on the use of music in dementia care:

Read more about Alive Inside and the work of Music and Memory, watch the trailer and purchase the DVD here.

Organisations that offer live music experiences:

Thanks for the Memory uses the power of music to create ‘Memory Moments’ and was established by Tim Ashcroft and his wife Renee, to help those living with memory loss or dementia and to help their families. They put on concerts for those with dementia and raise money to help other groups working with dementia patients and their families.

Lost Chord is a Charity dedicated to transforming the lives of those living with dementia and their families, using music in residential homes across the UK. 

Singing for the Brain is a service provided by Alzheimer’s Society.

Music in Hospitals Scotland is a registered charity and aims to improve the quality of life for people of all ages in care through the provision of professional live music. Concerts take place in hospitals, hospices, care homes, day centres and special needs schools, bringing the benefits of live music to people who need it most.

Resources for finding recorded music and creating playlists:

The Music for Dementia 2020 campaign shares best practice, research and music-based activities for people living with dementia. Their latest initiative urges people with dementia, their families and carers to build music playlists and offers free guides to help. They also offer a Musical Map for Dementia to help people with dementia find music related events and services in their area.

Playlist for Life has a vision: that every person with dementia has access to a unique playlist of their life, to help unlock who they are. Playlist for Life encourages families and caregivers to create a playlist of personally meaningful music on an ipod for people with dementia.

BBC Music Memories is a website designed to use music to help people with #dementia reconnect with their most powerful memories.You can use its databases to find favourite music – from classical to pop, to TV themes and even football chants – and create personal playlists.

Reminiscence Radio creates programmes featuring music from the 1940s-1970s, curated for people with short-term memory issues, designed to create a safe, reassuring place.

Information about the use and benefits of music in dementia care:

Dementia through Music: A Resource Book for Activities Providers and Care Staff, edited by Catherine Richard. An accessible guide to music activities for people with dementia for use by activity leaders, care staff and therapists, drawing on the expertise of people regularly using music in their work. Published 2020.  

The British Association for Music Therapy is a good source for further information.

The fabulous infographic from 3SpiritUK, the health and social care training company, contains a wealth of information on why and how music can help in the care of people with dementia.Click here for further information

Live Music Now and the University of Winchester worked in partnership with MHA (Methodist Homes) and The Orders of St John Care Trust to investigate the impact of music on residents, staff and the general care home environment. This has led to the report “LIVE MUSIC IN CARE”, which was published in 2019. The report finds that, “Carefully delivered music can provide significant benefits for older people, care staff and care settings, contributing to person-centred care. We recommend that regular participatory music programmes be considered essential for all UK care homes.”

“Music can soothe, stimulate and bring to mind long-forgotten memories” say Age UK in their information sheet on Dementia and Music.

5 reasons why music boosts brain activity, from Alzheimers.Net

How Singing Can Help People With Dementia, from Active Minds

Personal experiences and first hand accounts:

Pippa Kelly, a writer and campaigner on dementia and elderly care, often writes about music and dementia on her blog. She describes her personal experiences of witnessing the power of music to connect people even when their dementia is very advanced. She also features people, organisations and projects that  enhance the lives of people with dementia and their families through music.

Full time carer for his Mum, Martyn has written about Dementia, Music and Emotions.

In this clip from Women’s Hour on Radio 4, Agnes Houston shares her personal story about music, marriage dementia and hyperacusis (a condition that affects how you perceive sounds). It’s a powerful story and highly recommended listening. 

If you wish to recommend a resource for this page, please email feedback@carechartsuk.co.uk.