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Dementia Friendly Bathrooms – how to create yours.

22 September 2016

An estimated 800,000 people are living with dementia in Britain with a further 163,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

Dementia is a syndrome associated with an ongoing decline of the brain and its abilities to function. A relatively common condition, the risk of developing dementia increases with age, typically affecting those aged 65 years and over.

Affecting memory, thinking speed, mental agility, language, understanding and judgement those suffering with dementia often struggle to maintain a significant amount of independence as symptoms make it difficult to carry out daily tasks without putting oneself at risk.

Critically dementia can lead to a diminishing ability to perceive danger and as a result the bathroom can become a dangerous and confusing place however there are a number of things that can be done to make it a safer and less challenging space.

Falls Prevention

Statistics indicate that those suffering from dementia are twice as likely to fall as others in their age group and consequently have a three times greater mortality rate making falls prevention a key focus.

In order to reduce the risk of slip, trip or fall it is essential that adequate adaptations are introduced to make bathing or showering a safer experience for all. First and foremost is it advisable to create a level access solution, preferable a wet floor shower, completely removing the need to climb in, out, up or over a bath or shower tray. Doing so will also facilitate the use of slip resistant vinyl as a complete floor covering, including within the shower area, where risk of falls is at its greatest.

Similarly the incorporation of a level access shower solution will also allow for the easy installation of a shower seat, adding further to a safe and practical, fall free experience.

Finally we would highly advise on the installation of hand and grab rails in key areas of the room to help steady navigation and movement. Principally these areas would include the shower or bathing area, the basin area and WC.

Retro Memory & Memory Loss

Those living with dementia suffer greatly from short term memory loss however their long term ‘retro’ memory is relatively good in most cases.

Both of these pose issues, concerns and considerations when creating a dementia friendly bathroom. First of all it is advisable to incorporate ‘shut down settings’ on high water usage equipment, like baths and showers, to reduce the risk of flooding as a result of someone potentially forgetting they turned a fitting on.

Secondly it is of great importance to full-fill any major changes as soon as possible following diagnosis as unfamiliarity of settings and surroundings can cause great distress and confusion. Choosing traditional looking fixtures and fittings can also help as they will aid a user with recognising their surroundings and prompt them to carry out relevant tasks.

Visual & Sensory Confusion

A person’s vision and senses are inherently affected following the development of this condition which can often lead to confusion and distress.

Visually it is important to keep colourings consistent, except for areas in which you are wanting to distinguish. For example it is paramount to keep flooring a consistent block colour as variations of colour or shade can be interpreted as a step up or down potentially leading to a trip of fall. Similarly it is strongly advised to stay away from flooring with spots and speckles as this can be misinterpreted as dirt which may lead to someone attempting to bend down and clean.

That said it is important to colour code different areas of the bathroom so that they stand out. For example it is favoured to colour a shower seat and grab handles a different colour to the wall and floor colourings so that they are easily identified. However we would also encourage choosing a different colour for a WC so that it does not match that of the shower seat.

Equally sensory impairment can become a real hazardous struggle. It is advised that an installed shower solution should come with the options of alternate flow and pressure settings meaning a person suffering from hyper sensitive skin can choose a setting that doesn’t cause distress.

Similarly a person suffering dementia can become increasingly sensitive to light and glare so it is important to maximise the use of natural light where possible. In the same instance shadows can become distressing and confusing so installing ‘task lighting’ over key areas, like the basin, will help with using this fixture but also reduce the amount of shadow they create.

Finally, it is of great importance to incorporate anti-scalding, thematically controlled, fixtures and fittings to the basin and shower / bathing area. Someone suffering from dementia can progressively lose sensory perceptions but also the ability to safely assess areas of risk heightening the likelihood of scalding.

MoreAbility*, part of the Passmore Group, is Yorkshires leading and most experienced bath & shower room specialist for all types of stylish, safe & practical and bespoke solutions. Offering a fully project managed design & installation service we pride ourselves on meeting individual wants, needs and aspirational requirements for both the public & private sector.

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