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How to improve life for people with Alzheimer’s

21 Sep 2020

Imagine you’re in a supermarket. You look down at your shopping list and see three items: tea, sugar and milk. Where’s Mark? A quick glance up shows three aisles in front of you.  

What do you need again? Check the list. Peas, coffee and eggs. No, that doesn’t sound right. Check again. Ah. Tea. Sugar. Eggs. No, milk. Tea… sugar… milk. You hear Mark’s voice next to you.

You look up, searching for Mark, but he’s not there. Now there are five aisles. You’re sure they weren’t there before. You go to walk forward and jump back in fright. There’s a huge hole between you and the sugar. You start to panic. How are you going to get what you need?

For people with Alzheimer’s, the world can be a terrifying place. A trip to the supermarket can be confusing, with different memories overlapping and interfering with reality. Your colour perception can change too, causing you to view dark colours on the floor as holes or gaps. And so many other things that we take for granted can feel different.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, more than 815,00 people had dementia in the UK in 2013. That’s 1 in 14 over 65-year olds and it’s projected to rise by 40% by 2025. The need for care among the elderly and those with dementia is increasing. And because things can feel so uncertain for a person with Alzheimer’s, it’s vitally important that their home environment, often care homes, is designed to make them feel as safe as possible.

Technology has given us many more options when it comes to adapting to the needs of people with dementia, meaning modifications can be made to their environments to ensure they get the best quality of life. Octopus has a portfolio of more than 60 care homes and we’re so pleased to see many of them installing adaptations just like these, tailored specifically to residents with dementia. Hopefully, it won’t be long before these kinds of modifications are commonplace in care homes across the country. 

We spoke to some of our partners in our care homes to find out how much of a difference some adaptations can make to the lives of people with dementia.

Art makes residents feel at home

Simple things can make a big difference to those living with Alzheimer’s. Suzanne Mumford, Lead Quality Development Manager at Care UK, explained, “When supporting people with dementia, our design features focus on enhancing ability rather than reflecting disability. With subtle environmental changes, we can help maintain a person’s independence and sense of wellbeing.” Suzanne told us these adaptations can include using colour contrast toilet seats in bathrooms, so they are easily recognisable, and adapting lighting panels above baths so residents can look up to see relaxing, twinkling stars when they are bathing. Plus, avoiding the use of dark rugs or doormats means residents won’t confuse them with holes.

Artwork can also make a positive impact. Julie Stringfellow, Registered Manager at The HICA Group’s care home for dementia, told us about a seaside-themed corridor. “It includes lots of old photos of residents at the beach. Residents can spend a lot of time walking the corridors, so this gives them an opportunity to reminisce and have conversations with our staff members.”

Harking back to the past can help residents feel more comfortable too. Often, people living with dementia struggle with recent memories, while older ones feel clearer. It can be jarring for them to find themselves in modern surroundings that they don’t recognise. To combat this, there are rooms decorated in the style of past decades, matching the time periods that residents feel closer to in their heads.

Pictures can also help create visual cues to make buildings easier to get around. For example, there are lots of images of food and restaurants on the way to dining rooms which subtlety show residents where they need to go to eat.

Virtual reality and magic tables encourage interaction

Dawn Collett, Commissioning Director at New Care Homes, spoke to us about introducing technology into homes which has improved the lives of residents with dementia. For instance, the team installed a Tovertafel table, also known as a magic table, in their care homes a few years ago. The sensory table allows small groups of residents and staff to sit and interact with one another through digital games, puzzles and more. A particular favourite is the calming experience of feeding virtual fish.

The magic tables have had a really positive impact on residents’ physical and mental wellbeing. “There are so many ways the sensory table can be used,” Dawn explained. “Residents can create artwork and music or even complete a Jigsaw puzzle of a recognisable image. This provides many benefits when it comes to stimulating peoples’ minds and creativity.”

Dawn also told us about ‘Tiny Tablets’, which are large touch screens that can be used for sensory gaming, playing music and video calls. They’re portable, so residents who can’t leave their rooms as much as others still have the chance to get involved in activities. “This has been priceless, especially for residents who want to speak with family members that aren’t nearby,” Dawn explained.

Technology to help families stay in touch

Residents are learning more about using computers to connect with their families. “At first, people were fearful of this, but it has proved to be a really positive way of connecting residents to their families – including far-off relatives who weren’t able to have good quality time with them previously,” Suzanne noted.

Being able to talk to and see the people they love is so beneficial for care homes residents. One Sherwood Grange resident told us, “Being able to see people using the computer has meant I have seen family and friends that I haven’t seen in years. And I see close family more regularly than many of them have been able to visit in the past.”

Another resident has been able to continue her religious and spiritual connections with a daily video call to pray together with her daughter. And yet another resident keeps in touch with her grandchildren abroad via daily Skype calls. These are just a few of the hundreds of interactions that are technology allows care home residents to have on a daily basis. And they’re so important for the wellbeing of those living with dementia.

Apps to make it easy to provide great care

Recently, the Care UK team have introduced their residents to a number of apps to make it even easier for them to stay in touch with their families. The Active Minds app has been particularly useful as it helps homes to track the wellbeing of residents with dementia, as well as identify their abilities and tailor activities to them accordingly. The app includes lots of resources and activities and staff can give immediate feedback on how each patient is responding, making it much easier to see how residents are doing.

“We’re also in the process of embedding RelsApp into care homes, and the trials so far have been really positive,” Suzanne told us. RelsApp connects care home residents with their families, allowing family members to upload pictures, videos and messages for their relatives with dementia. Plus, residents can add their own content too. “When residents aren’t able to see their families, tools like this are irreplaceable,” Suzanne explained. “And it allows residents to share a snapshot of the activities they have been taking part in, even if they can’t recall them all themselves.”

Moving forward

As technology continues to evolve and the needs of our ageing population change, care homes will keep evolving to make sure they give the best care possible to their residents. We’re so pleased to support our care homes while they do such amazing work, creating environments where all their residents can feel at home and have the best quality of life.


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