As people get older and frailer they become more likely to experience a fall and sustain an injury. This risk is even more pronounced with people living with dementia.
Like everything else, there are things you can do to lessen the risk and a few simple changes you can make in the home to make the floors safer and reduce the risk that your loved one will have a trip or fall.
Impact of dementia on floor coverings
Dementia impacts on people’s bodies in many different ways, one of the impacts is on their eyesight and how the brain processes visual information. This compounds the normal degradation in eyesight that comes with the natural ageing process.
The impact of these changes in visual processing differs from person to person but some common experiences include:
- Dark mats or shadows can look like holes
- Shiny surfaces can appear wet and slippery
- Patterned carpets can look like they have objects
- Changes in colours can create the impression of a barrier or a change in depth
- Some floor patterns such as on lino can cause illusions
This is not an exhaustive list and each individual won’t necessarily experience every symptom.
Choosing your floor covering
Most people, when they choose what to put on the floor, base their decision purely on personal taste. When selecting the flooring for someone living with dementia there are some other factors that you should take into account.
Older people are often fond of their fixtures and fittings that they selected some time ago and can be reluctant to make changes. This can especially be a concern for them if they spent a lot of money on the flooring and in their view it still fit for purpose.
But if your loved one has started their dementia journey you may want to look again at a number of factors in the home including the flooring. Falls don’t only cause physical injury to the older people which can sometimes be very serious indeed. They can also permanently damage the confidence of the older person.
A stair carpet, for example, may seem ok but it may cause some confusion as someone with dementia goes up and down the stairs. As people’s eyes deteriorate they may no longer be able to differentiate between the treads and the riser parts of a staircase if they are the same colour.
Consider a plain carpet without a pattern and if possible have a different colour on the riser from the tread. This is not always easy to do, may not look how you want it to and will cost considerably more than a standard stair carpet. Therefore, if you wish to stick with a traditional plain carpet there are a number of things you can do to make things safer.
- Install good lighting
- Install handrails
Bathroom floor covering
When choosing floor coverings for your bathroom you should consider all of the same factors as for the rest of your rooms but you also need to think about how safe it is when wet.
Bathroom floors can become very slippery when wet, especially when there is standing water on it. You need to consider this fully when choosing what type of floor covering you choose. The very best bathroom flooring can be expensive but from a safety perspective this could be considered money well spent.
Like the bathroom, you also need to consider the full range of factors when choosing flooring but also you need to focus on safety. Kitchens are not designed to be wet like a bathroom but they often get that way. A spill from a dropped cup of tea or flood from the washing machine are just two of a number of risk factors that put an older person at risk.
Other flooring considerations
Heavily patterned carpets or vinyl can cause significant confusion to people living with dementia. As their journey progresses it can become s increasingly difficult to distinguish between actual objects and the patterns on the floor. This sometimes sees them trying to pick up objects that are not there, such as flowers or bits of tissue.
Black and White cheque patterns can give the impression that there are holes all over the floor that need to be avoided.
Contrasting colours can be bad for people living with dementia because they create an apparent barrier. But it is not that straightforward.
If you have a step into the kitchen, painting that step a different colour may really help somebody notice it, take the appropriate care and stay safe.
Painting the skirting boards a different colour to the wall and the carpet and really help the older person to get a real perspective for the room layout. Similarly, having furniture in a highly contrasting colour to the carpet will also help someone living with dementia identify and use the chair.
As already stated shiny floors can sometimes look like it is wet to someone living with dementia. When they are walking on a “wet floor” they can become very hesitant and unconfident, ironically making them less safe and more likely to have a fall. One solution for all non-carpeted areas is to have a matt finish that will help reduce the falls risk.
Removing potential hazards
It’s not just poor flooring that increases risks of falls, clutter and things lying on the floor can also be a potential hazard. So make sure that there is nothing lying on the floor that can cause a hazard especially on or near stairs. Consider furniture, a low coffee table or small stool may present just as big a risk as a loosely fitting stair carpet.
Rugs look nice and are used perfectly safely in millions of homes across the country, but they can present a real hazard to all older people especially those living with dementia. As mobility and spatial awareness reduces, these seemingly innocuous objects can become a real hazard.
Make sure footwear is comfortable and well-fitting, badly fitting slippers are responsible for a huge number of injuries to older people every year. So make sure they have good grips on the soles and plenty support at the back. The ankle booty type is probably one of the safest, providing they’re been put on correctly.