4 Everyday Objects Misperceived by the People with Dementia

A dementia writer has warned that decorative murals, used by many dementia care homes to stimulate reminiscence, could actually be upsetting for some people. Wendy Mitchell, who is living with dementia herself, and who wrote the dementia memoir ‘Somebody I Used to Know’ said of the murals: “I really hate them. They are so confusing. What’s wrong with a nice painting or simply a window with a view? Why make us think we’re somewhere else?”

Anna Park, a specialist care consultant agrees with Mitchell’s comments saying, “I understand the idea of bringing reminiscence therapy to life with colourful, nostalgic murals but I think the scale, design and permanence of them are rarely dementia friendly with many commercial companies jumping on the bandwagon without an understanding of the main principles of good dementia design.” She worries that in some cases, the murals can dominate living spaces and overwhelm the senses of a person with dementia.

These murals are just one of many commonly used items which can exacerbate confusion or distress in people living with dementia. Read on to find out about other everyday visual stimuli which could be causing difficulties for service users in your care home.

Visual Stimuli that Can Cause Confusion

Many people with dementia experience visuoperceptual difficulties which can lead to increased confusion and even hallucinations. This is due to a decreased sensitivity to contrast, colours and movements and a reduction in the visual field. Double vision and problems with depth perception can make matters even worse so it’s important to ‘get inside’ the experience of the people in your care if you’re to understand how everyday items can be misperceived.

4 Everyday Objects Can All Be Misperceived by the People Living with Dementia 

  1. Mirrors: Any reflective surfaces can be challenging for a person with dementia simply because they may no longer recognise themselves. Seeing an unfamiliar face or outline can be terrifying, so aim to eliminate unnecessary mirrors or at least cover them when not in use.
  2. Flooring: Rugs or mats can often be misinterpreted by a person with dementia as holes or objects that need to be stepped over which can increase the risk of falls. Shiny floors can also be interpreted as ‘wet’ and cause difficulties. Matt flooring which contrasts with wall colours is usually the most dementia-friendly option.
  3. Television: Although watching TV can still be an enjoyable pastime for a person with dementia, it can sometimes be difficult for them to distinguish between the activity on the screen and reality. Scenes depicting conflict or violence can be particularly distressing if the person believes this is actually happening in their proximity so it’s important to always manage TV viewing carefully.
  4. Shadows: On dark winter evenings or at night, shadows can be a particular problem for people with dementia who may interpret them as physical objects and respond accordingly. Improving lighting can help both by reducing shadows and by making objects easier to identify. Movement activated lighting can be particularly helpful at night, if a person wakes to use the bathroom.

For more about the latest developments and innovations in dementia care, check out Care Quality Matters: the best step-by-step advice for excellence in care, including the monthly Dementia: Care and Support supplement.

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