Colour & Contrast for People Living with Dementia

As we age, we typically experience changes to our eyes that affect vision and colour perception. This sight loss can occur as a result of several reasons, such as: 

  • eye conditions, such as cataracts or macular degeneration
  • other health conditions, such as stroke
  • regular ageing of the eye

The above are all different ways that a person’s visual system can be damaged, which can cause vision to deteriorate or to be completely lost. For people with Dementia, visual difficulties can also occur when Dementia affects the part of the brain that processes visual information that comes from the eyes. In this instance, a person living with Dementia may have problems with their vision but have healthy eyes.

It can be difficult to separate the signs of sight loss from those caused by Dementia, and in some cases, one condition may mask the other. The following are some of the things that a person with Dementia who is struggling with their sight may have difficulty with:  

  • reading
  • finding things
  • avoiding obstacles
  • recognising people
  • coping with low light, bright light or both
  • seeing properly, even with glasses on

It’s important to be aware that some of the above issues may be caused by the person’s Dementia. However, the person’s sight should be tested if they are experiencing the above difficulties so that it can be corrected and doesn’t lead to heightened confusion. 

How to Cope with Both Sight Loss and Dementia

People living with Dementia who also have issues with their sight typically experience a range of problems such as disorientation, mobility issues and an increased risk of falls. With both Dementia and sight loss together, it can be more difficult for a person to implement coping techniques that can help with the communication or memory problems, as many of these strategies include visual prompts or notes.

If you are caring for someone living with both sight loss and Dementia, the following are some of the things that can help:

  • Eye Care: Ensuring regular eye tests and that their glasses prescription is current. 
  • Better Communication: Trying to get the person’s attention before speaking to them and describing to them what is happening. Try speaking face-to-face so that they can use remaining visual cues and body language.
  • Professional Support: Seeking professional support from your doctor, healthcare workers or occupational therapists.
  • Coping Strategies: Developing alternative coping strategies that are based on what the person can do.

Environmental Changes that May Help a Person with Dementia

Making changes to the person’s environment, such as improving lighting and using contrasting colours can also significantly help. Using colour contrast can highlight the important objects in a room and make the environment clearer for someone with Dementia. Without contrast, elements may blend in with the surroundings. 

When talking about colour contrast, this can refer to: 

  • The contrast of two colours: for example contrasting white and blue
  • The contrast of light and dark colours: contrasting different shades next to each other, such as dark red and pink
  • The contrast of cold and warm colours: placing cold and warm colours next to each other, for example, yellow (a warm colour) beside blue (a cold colour).

Some of the practical things that can be done in the home of a person living with Dementia using colour are as follows:

  • Furniture upholstery and finishes should contrast with the floor 
  • Bathroom fixtures should contrast with colours of the walls and flooring, for example, a white toilet should not be placed with a white floor 
  • Draw attention to the door to direct the person with Dementia to the right places by using a contrasting paint colour on the frame or the door
  • The colour of crockery and cutlery should contrast with the colour of the tablecloth or the table
  • Don’t use floor coverings that run up the side of the wall, as this can be extremely difficult for a person with Dementia to identify where the floor ends and the wall begins.
  • Ensure the flooring in areas that lead on to one another are the same colour so that they look continuous. 
  • Hang prominent elements such as wall art or paintings on walls to help the person clearly differentiate the walls from the floors. 
  • Use contrasting colours on floors, walls, and worktops to help delineate between vertical and horizontal surfaces. 

If you’re caring for someone with Dementia, Brain Sparks’ Dementia Live® course may be of benefit to you. The course immerses carers in the experience of living with Dementia to give them powerful insights for effectively communicating with those in their care.

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