Dementia impacts upon people’s learning, reason and memory – most of all recent memory. There are also associated issues with how they perceive the world around them which can lead to them misinterpreting certain things they have seen. Because of this there is a real and urgent need for better signage to make things clear and eliminate some of the risk of misinterpretation, which can in severe cases lead to accident, injury and worse. Orientation is crucial for all of us but those with dementia cannot rely on their senses in the same way as those who do not suffer from the disease. This means that things like lighting and familiarity are vital. There have been numerous sufferers of dementia who have had visits from well-meaning relatives, who’ve tidied up and reorganised things around the flat or house, which can lead to real problems of orientation.
When planning a new building for a facility for people with dementia there are many things that can be done to ensure that things will run as smoothly as possible, causing the minimum amount of anxiety and stress surrounding orientation and understanding signage. A simple layout is fundamental, involving routes that require a minimal level of memory and reasoning.
When it comes to signs, they should be clear (which hopefully goes without saying), they should be mounted at a low enough height to avoid having to crane one’s neck or alter the eye level, and feature words and colours that contrast sufficiently and boldly with the background. Signs are most beneficial when directional, featuring something logical like an arrow or finger pointing the way to go.
Signs placed on the door of a room advertising its usage are absolutely vital. Look at this great example. The text is clearly defined from the background colour, which itself will stand out from most doors and the accompanying picture leaves no doubt as to what lies behind the door.
Figure 1 Toilet Signage from New Vision (www.new-vision.co.uk)
In addition to signs, which are absolutely pivotal in going about daily life, completing tasks basic to human needs and orientation, there have been some excellent innovations from the likes of New Vision that can help trigger the sort of positive memories that function in accordance with the ideas of ‘life story’ therapy.
This example of a memory box is such a product.
Figure 2 Memory Box from New Vision
Just imagine a dementia sufferer who was a fanatical cricket player in his early life. He played as number 3 batsman for his local cricket team and was known all around the local area for his rambunctious playing style and penchant for smashing sixes into the car park. This particular ball smashed through the window of a VW Polo. The Polo belonged to a young woman who, through some smooth talking and the offer of an apology in the form of dinner, became the young cricketer’s wife. This was that ball. These sort of deep, old memories are those that dementia sufferers hold onto. Imagine the difference a product like this could make?