Quality of life is now an established outcome measure for people with dementia. Despite common misconceptions that quality of life diminishes as dementia worsens, research shows that this is not necessarily the case. Quality of life is strongly influenced by a resident’s mood and interaction with their environment. Furthermore, the environment in which a person with dementia lives can provide a positive and therapeutic experience, regardless of the type of health care that person receives (Day et al 2000; Zeisel et al 2003; Fleming and Purandare 2010; Marquardt et al 2014).
Knowing the positive impact environment has on a person’s quality of life, is motivating us to find more dementia-friendly furniture solutions.
Here are four factors we believe should be considered when choosing furniture for residents with dementia.
When weighing up your options, it’s important to start with the overall design and structure of the furniture. While contemporary furniture is often aesthetically pleasing, if a chair has an unusual shape, it may cause confusion and frustration for residents – a chair should look like a chair.
The design also determines how accessible the furniture is. Consider the armrests on a chair – are they stable, easy to grip and reachable? An armrest that is slightly further forward can support a resident with shifting in and out of a chair, giving more independence and confidence.
The seat shape, positioning and flexibility are crucial when aiming to obtain pressure distribution. A rounded shape at the front edge of the seat promotes optimal blood circulation if a resident is sitting for a long period of time. Seats with a rounded front edge provide a comfortable thigh position and assist to distribute the weight evenly.
Check if there are any edges on the furniture that stick out that may cause a trip hazard. Leg rests that tuck underneath the chair will ensure an individual can place their heels directly underneath to stand safely.
A reclining chair that can manually shift into the zero-gravity position without too much effort will allow the individual to restfully nap. The zero-gravity position is where the body is in a neutral body posture and the weight is evenly distributed. This position helps to improve circulation, reduce strain on the heart and pressure on the spine and muscles allowing the individual to relax.
Features like a reclining function should be thoroughly accessed to ensure they are simple and safe for all individuals to operate. The occupant should feel safe, calm and in control.
Individuals with dementia can have difficulty differentiating between shades and tones of colours (Brawley 2009; van Hoof et al 2010). Furniture should contrast between walls and flooring to assist with distinguishing between them. A relaxed, homely environment can be achieved with warmer colours and simple patterns. Colour can also be used to assist residents with wayfinding.
Textured materials can often irritate an individual and their skin. A smooth surface that is not heavily textured is more comfortable and supports pressure care. A surface that is both smooth and waterproof will be easy to clean in situations where incontinence and infection control is important. Shiny surfaces can often look wet to some individuals with dementia, matte materials are preferred.
Brawley EC. 2009. Enriching lighting design. NeuroRehabilitation 25(3): 189–99.
Day K, Carreon D, Stump C. 2000. The therapeutic design of environments for people with dementia: a review of the empirical research. The Gerontologist 40(4): 397–416.
Day K, Cohen U. 2000. The role of culture in designing environments for people with dementia. Environment & Behavior 32(3): 361–99
Fleming R. 2011. An environmental audit tool suitable for use in homelike facilities for people with dementia. Australasian Journal on Ageing 30(3): 108–12.
Ministry of Health (2016), Secure Dementia Care Home Design Information Resource: A summary, Wellington, retrieved from https://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/secure-dementia-unit-design-guide-information-resource-summary.pdf
Marquardt G, Bueter K, Motzek T. 2014. Impact of the design of the built environment on people with dementia: an evidence-based review. HERD 8(1): 127–57.
van Hoof J, Kort HS, van Waarde people, et al. 2010. Environmental interventions and the design of homes for older adults with dementia: an overview. American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias 25(3): 202–32
Zeisel J, Silverstein NM, Hyde J, et al. 2003. Environmental correlates to behavioural health outcomes in Alzheimer’s special care units. The Gerontologist 43(5): 697–711.