Designing for Dementia and the Elderly

Britain has an aging population and whilst dementia isn't the preserve of the elderly, it is more commonly found in older people. As designers, what can we do to help people live better lives for longer when living with dementia?

Colour & Contrast

Done correctly, this is a simple and cost efficient way to adapt even an existing property to make it more suitable. Natural thickening of the lens with age means that older people may experience colours as 'washed out' and may increasingly find blues, greens and purples harder to tell apart.

  • Bathroom doors of a different colour will help people differentiate it from other rooms in the home
  • In care homes, having individual room doors in a range of different colours will help residents find their own rooms easier
  • Contrasting colours should be used to highlight features e.g. having handrails in a different colour to the wall behind them will make them easier to spot
  • Having furniture in colours which contrast with the flooring helps people with dementia and sight loss more easily find their way around
  • Avoid stark contrasts e.g. some people with dementia may mistake a black entrance mart for a hole in the ground


Lighting is particularly difficult in shared communal spaces as different people have different lighting requirements. One of the most important design considerations when it comes to lighting is to make good use of natural day lighting which is probably no surprise to anyone .Not only do people prefer natural light, but the changes in lighting will more naturally help people differentiate between day and night so as to be awake and to sleep at the right time.

  • Task lighting is helpful in some areas of the home. For example, strip lighting under cabinets in the kitchen helps with kitchen tasks, and lights in shower areas support independent personal care. Extra lighting for exterior doors contributes to people being able to enter and leave their homes more safely; they may also find lighted keyholes easier to use.
  • The positioning of lighting is important. Lighting placed directly over beds can be uncomfortable for people when resting. It may be possible to correct this through the use of appropriate shading.
  • It is useful to have additional electrical points available in rooms to enable further lighting to be made available when it would be helpful for specific tasks or activities needing more light, such as reading. Additional lighting can be provided through a variety of lighting types, e.g. table lamps, angle-poise lamps or standard lamps.

Fixtures and Fittings

  • Some people with sight loss and dementia may find tactile markers useful as a way to navigate round their homes, e.g. plastic bumps stuck to the underside of handrails to signal key points such as the proximity of doors on the opposite side.
  • Rugs and mats present potential tripping hazards and removing them can contribute to greater safety in the home. For a variety of reasons some people may wish to retain particular rugs or mats despite the hazard that they pose, and an appropriate balance should be sought between managing potential risk and respecting people’s rights to choice in their own homes.
  • Larger LCD screens and print sizes make digital controls easier to use. Some people may find that analogue controls are easier to use than digital controls. Consideration should be given to individual preferences when deciding on the type of control that will be used.
  • People feel more at home when they have familiar objects around them. In care home settings it is important that residents are able to personalise the furnishings in their rooms.
  • Some people may find switches on double sockets difficult to operate and single sockets may be a better option.

Further Reading

Much of the content of this article was taken from the following guidance where you can read more on the subject.

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