Close your eyes and picture a calm environment. Do you see a clear blue ocean, an expanse of green trees, or the warm comfort of a balmy, sunny day?
People with dementia are even more likely to link visual memories and emotions than individuals not experiencing cognitive decline. This means that color selection and arrangement are key components of any memory care community.
“Our everyday experiences are shaped consciously and subconsciously by the environment that surrounds us — especially color,” says Eleanor Epstein, a Los Angeles-based artist and designer.
It’s important for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia to reside in a space that promotes physical and mental well-being. Certain memory care paint colors and patterns are able to evoke emotions that can reduce agitation, combat aggression, and even stimulate memory. Intentional color selections can dramatically change the way your loved one interacts with their environment.
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“Color has an everyday impact on our psyche, and it has the ability to shift our mood,” says Epstein.
This shift is especially evident in seniors, as older adults are most likely to form connotations between emotional memories and positive colors, according to Harvard University research.
Why? As other senses diminish, color may be more easily distinguishable than other environmental cues.
Not only can color influence emotion, but it can also enhance a senior’s understanding of their environment.
Cognitive abilities and eyesight can diminish over time. Objects may become more difficult to differentiate, and things that a person without dementia would easily be able to tell apart may become harder to distinguish. This can lead to difficulty discerning a bathroom from a bedroom, finding food on a plate, or dressing in matched clothing.
There are three general categories of change in cognitive ability that make it harder for people with dementia to maneuver through spaces, according to Libbi Hash, national director of wellness and memory care at Kisco Senior Living. Remember these factors when considering how memory care paint colors affect loved ones with dementia.
Memory care communities keep these three key factors in mind when choosing paint colors to help seniors adapt to their environment confidently and independently.
Designing memory care communities isn’t about following the latest trends — it’s about choosing colors that create a calm, healing environment that best influences the lives of residents.
The effect of paint colors on memory care patients is no secret: Even prominent paint brand Sherwin-Williams has designed a specific color palate for use in memory care communities. This vibrant-yet-soothing collection is intended to help residents distinguish between spaces as they navigate the community.
“As a patient with dementia moves through different spaces, the use of contrasting colors can help prompt behaviors,” says Epstein. “The muted blue of a sitting room can induce feelings of calm and relaxation, whereas bright yellows and greens of a kitchen or dining area send energizing cues to the brain, perhaps stimulating appetite.”
Hash suggests using a basic color palette, not too vivid or bright, like blues and greens with a pop of orange. Some memory care paint colors that can have a significant impact on emotion include:
“There’re so many factors that are out of our control when it comes to dementia, things that we can’t fix or make better. But color stimulation or de-stimulation is one thing we can control and do really well,” Hash says.
Choosing the right palate of memory care paint colors can dramatically influence an environment from a safety standpoint as well as an emotional one. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing colors to keep dementia patients safe.
Prevent spatial misperception. Avoid dark rugs, bathmats, and other floor coverings. Dark colors can look like vacancies to dementia patients — they may perceive these objects as holes to be avoided and attempt to navigate around them, causing both anxiety and potential falls.
Keep contrast in mind. A dementia patient with limited eyesight and depth perception may not be able to distinguish a white toilet from a white wall, or strawberries from a red bowl. Using contrasting paint colors can help clearly define objects, preventing bathroom falls or toileting accidents.
Identify doorways. Since dementia patients may have trouble wayfinding, it’s important to distinguish spaces with color and design to avoid anxiety and confusion. By differentiating resident doorways with paint colors, posters, or memory boxes rather than just nameplates, it’s easier for individuals to find their own rooms. This prevents the potential fear or aggression that can come from entering another resident’s apartment.
Camouflage exits. Visible exits can lead to attempted escape from memory care facilities. Trying to open secure doors could cause injury, anxiety, or bruising. By matching the color of exit or stairwell doors to the surrounding walls, memory care communities can reduce the likelihood of these incidents.
When touring a memory care community, ask how they’ve used color to enhance the resident experience. Be on the lookout for conscious design choices like contrast, color in activity areas, and color-coded halls and doorways.
Reach out to A Place for Mom’s free, local Senior Living Advisors to schedule tours, get tips on what to look for, and learn more about memory care design. They can answer any questions you may have and help find the best match for your loved one’s interests and needs.
Original draft contributed to by A Place for Mom staff writer Mary Salatino.
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University of Rochester. (1999, March 22). ‘Motion blindness,’ not just poor memory, causes Alzheimer’s patients to lose their way.
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