Colour your World…and Theirs! (Public article)

Public article

By Jane Verity © Dementia Care International

Members please log in and click this link Colour your World and… Theirs! for your full version of this article.

Colour choice for decorating dedicated dementia areas, colours to be favoured or avoided and the impact of murals are frequently discussed in terms of dementia. In particular, people seek guidelines and ask if there is any research to which they can refer?

The following facts and tips are of great value, no matter whether you are a professional or a family carer. There are as many beliefs and philosophies about colour choice in dementia as there are experts. It all comes down to the philosophy and beliefs that you and your organisation are happy with.

Here are some helpful principles to keep in mind:

  • Research is beginning to show that not only is colour contrast  important for people with dementia but so is the tonality of colours (lightness and darkness of a colour). Tonal contrast between colours plays an important role. Tonal contrasts are strongly affected by the quality of the light. For example: Is it bright or cloudy daylight? Is it fluorescent or incandescent electric light?
  • How colour is perceived under one type of lighting may be very different from the way it is perceived under a different type of light bulb. Remember, light is essential to perception – without light, we cannot see anything. In general, the best light is daylight; therefore light bulbs that give light that closely resembles daylight are highly recommended. Ask your electrician for advice on this issue.

Did you know that, in general, older people require three times the amount of light to see as well as younger people and are more sensitive to glare?

Use colour and tonal contrasts to emphasise important features, such as to contrast between walls and floor coverings and at the edge of stairs or level changes, so they are easy to distinguish and therefore help minimise falls. Note that a contrasting edge on floor coverings around walls is to be avoided as it can be interpreted as a step or hole. Contrasts can also be used to focus on important doors, such as the person’s own door or toilet doors. Likewise, blending doors in with the wall colour will make them ‘disappear’ and it is more likely that the person will miss them.

Use contrasts in your signage and incorporate these golden rules:

  • Black writing on white background.
  • Use a font with serifs (such as Times New Roman).
  • Use upper and lower case, bold and a minimum size of 60pt.

People with dementia tend to look down rather than up, so ensure signage is placed in their line of sight – this could be just above door handle height.

Here are some thoughts on the emotional value of colours in dementia design.

  • Recognise that you cater for both men and women and although you may favour the prettier colours with floral designs for bedrooms,  it may not feel right for men. Rather than using pink and blues in the bedrooms, shades of green can be a great substitute. Green is considered the most restful of colours and is said to reduce activity in the central nervous system and help people feel calm. It is a cool colour and makes a room appear larger.
  • In contrast, red is physiologically stimulating. It increases brain wave activity and can also increase the apparent temperature of a room. Shades of red can be useful in areas of high levels of activity.

We challenge the myth that says we should not use red in dementia care. Whilst a few people may not like red, this has nothing to do with dementia in general. If you’ve had an instance when a person reacted negatively to the colour red, it was a uniquely individual reaction for that person. Reflect upon your experience; isn’t it true that there are far more people with dementia who love the colour red than do not? As with everything in dementia, avoid generalisations and remain focussed on the individual.

Using yellow in the bathroom and rose coloured mirrors enables everyone to look their best. This can help a person start the day feeling good. Yellow is known to help people suffering from skin problems and mental lethargy.

The knowledgeable use of colour is undoubtedly helpful in creating the most supportive environment for independence and social and emotional wellbeing. However, no matter how sophisticated the colour scheme, it cannot make up for the human element in dementia. The power of looking into a loving face, of being respected unconditionally, of being included, and being an active participant in life can never be replaced by colour.

For further reading – Click topic

  • Colour your World and… Theirs! – Extended Members article – Jane Verity (Learn examples of creative use of colour in dementia design, including 2 great tips for camouflaging doors, the use of Steiner colour techniques in preventing challenging behaviour, colour effects on emotions & wellbeing, plus how one facility reduced falls with a themed colour makeover.)
  • Listening to our Hearts Through Colour – Members article – Wendy Dunn (Learn of the 7 energy centres in our body called chakra centres – as taught by Eastern philosophy, which each have a different colour vibration.)

Relevant Resources:

Flower Game – Positive interaction and creativity based, colourful and joyful game designed to boost self-esteem – Visit our Product Page

Giant balloons six vibrant colours to induce energy, joy and laughter – reusable – Visit our Product Page

Hand balloon pump – ideal for blowing up giant balloons – Visit our Product Page

Hug Heart Balloons small red heart-shaped balloons to exchange for hugs – Visit our Product Page