Dementia and the Living Environment: How Much Does It Matter?

I have been a nurse for 14 years, and through my experience as a Clinical Director in a Memory Care community, I have found my passion and my gift. Along the way, I have met the most amazing people and am very grateful and humbled that I am able to care for, comfort, and love not only those living with a dementia diagnosis, but their families as well. I will be writing a continuing column here because I believe it is extremely important that I take other opportunities that come with my position and knowledge to provide education, to the larger community in which I live.

ENVIRONMENT
There are many important factors to consider when caring for someone with dementia, but one of the most important is the affect that the patient’s living environment can have on their safety, mood, and overall quality of life. The environment might be the leading contributor to the success or failure of the patient’s progress through the disease, whether they live at home or in a facility.

“NO”
There are different types of behaviors common to dementia patients, but a common one is their response to “No”. If you tell them “No, you can’t do that” or “No, don’t go outside”, their response is predictably negative. They immediately want to do what you just told them they can’t do, so they dig in their heels, they get upset, and you can’t persuade them to do anything. This is one reason why plenty of space and a continual walking path are very important in dementia care. For those who are able, walking can be very calming and therapeutic and can help to reduce or eliminate anxiety. It is important that they can walk without being told they can’t go here or can’t go there. This single environmental change alone, can have a big impact on reducing agitation and problem behaviors.

STIMULATION
Another important environmental factor for dementia patients is finding the right amount of stimulation. There is a fine line between over stimulation and under stimulation: either one can produce negative effects. If a person with dementia is under stimulated, you can see symptoms like boredom, loneliness and unsettling behaviors. On the other hand, an overstimulating environment, like a restaurant or grocery store, can cause fear, anxiety, aggression and resistance. Some tips:

1.) Provide an area that is simple and free of clutter.
2.) Avoid environments with loud background noises.
3.) Create a space that is easy to navigate, with simple patterns and colors.

Kandice Young

Kandice Young

Written by Kandice Young, LPN, Clinical Services Director
Greenridge Place, An Anthem Memory Care Community