When we make the difficult decision to put a loved one with dementia into the care system, the resolve is never taken lightly.
I can still remember the day I made that decision and the day that I took my Mother Joan to the care home, got in the car afterwards, drove away and left her. There was more prior planning involved in the process of course and one of the most important things for both Mum and I, to make that transition easier, I talk about here.
Once we established that care was on the agenda, I decided that the best option was to make my Mother’s room in her new home as comfortable as possible. Some choose to replicate older times from the past, (e.g: 1930’s when the individual was a child), others choose to replicate a person’s own home. I did neither.
I thought that it was key to incorporate Mum’s things with new items. “Cloning” her own home could have caused even more confusion. Thinking she were still at home and then searching for corridors and people that weren’t in the new place. I think it depends on the individual and what’s right according to that person and their family.
A designer ‘by trade’, I opted for a theme for Mum’s room to give me direction. She had a few key pieces I knew she loved and with her passion for gardening in mind, which she hadn’t been able to do for a few years since the wandering became an issue, I selected a tropical outdoor look. Think; Beverley Hills Hotel. Less pink, greener. Lots of plants, outdoor palm prints. Mum always loved the colour green and said it reminded her of her Mother. Green spaces and plants alike also create calm, which we talk about in our posts: Therapeutic Views and Sensory Gardens as well as our educational trip to Kew Gardens.
When I lead Mum into her new room, the first thing she said was “This is a lovely room!” -and I told her it was hers. She then noticed the black and white photograph of her as a teenager standing with Dorris Day (I had framed it) and said: “Oh that’s me!” And somehow, I knew I had done exactly the right thing for her. Everyone else in the care home seemed to love it too, all the staff came in for a visit and other residents were intrigued.
The theme of Mum’s room came from her love of plants and gardening but sat well with her teenage love for movies, the cinema and her idol, Dorris Day. The two loves in unison, Old Hollywood and what’s more iconic than The Beverly Hills Hotel, still a favoured destination to the stars, even today.
The Beverly Hills Hotel itself along with legendary palm print pyjamas are a hit with the Kardashian sisters (to name but a few)…
Joan has now moved to another care home and her room is under new renovations. As she progresses with dementia, so too do her needs. This should be echoed, I feel, in her space. The armchair she used frequently to write out muddled crossword puzzles has now been replaced with a wheelchair and a hoist. She can no longer walk. While I am opting to keep the greenery and prints she loves, I have designed a more sensory space, one which can captivate thoughts and entertain her while she is on bedrest.
Many of those living with dementia are bedridden and spend hours of their day in bed, staring at blank walls with no or hardly any mental stimulation. While I feel this virtual solitary confinement is a form of torture and that laws should be changed to prevent isolation; I have tried to remedy this as much as I can for my Mother. Two ways which I’ve done so are, the changes to the room which I’ll get to in a moment and by ensuring Joan is taken out for an hour every day by an independent carer coming in to visit her. The latter is still underway, with help from a local charity Crossroads. They helped Mum when she was still living at home to go out twice a week for a coffee with one of their staff. My latest idea is for them to take Mum out 3 days a week, (additionally to family visiting) and if it’s too cold and Mum isn’t up to a conversation, then to read to Mum for an hour.
The sensory element of Mum’s room is still underway. While an independent decorator re-paints (as I type!) and the arrival of new pieces for her room are anticipated, I predict it should be complete in two weeks. We’ll keep you updated on the progress!
Meanwhile, here are some mood boards that were put together last year, as inspiration for Joan’s room.
The first mood board shows the palm and leaf prints I spoke about before. The green tartan blanket is an old favourite of Joan’s but fits well with the theme. Trying to keep a plain white backdrop, in the form of walls or bedding creates a nice juxtaposition to the busy palm print. Natural rattan furniture or beach wood also fits well with the theme.
The foliage and palm prints are still present. With the upgraded design, the thought process was on the senses. Sensory elements add mental stimulation, vital for the brain to maintain activity.
Sensory – Sight, Sound, Smell, Taste & Touch:
Different textures add interest to look at or touch. The foliage itself that has been brought in lately adds smell. Lavender, a favourite of Joan’s has many beneficial properties as well as a distinctive aroma, (we list these below).
To create sound, the old favourite: TV is one addition but a CD player, for quieter moments, allowing music and audiobooks to be played. Instruments; an old piano, can be added if space will allow and may encourage others within the home to play and entertain all.
As Joan is on bedrest I decided to create a sensory wall for her to look at. This is to go to the side of her bed. A simple shelving unit with interesting items on it creates a visual display. Photos of loved ones, plants, a mirror even. We would recommend being cautious with mirrors, we talked about this in an earlier post here. Mirrors can be distressing to some people with dementia. Our advice would be to try it out with your loved one first.
Taste is a trickier sense. As dementia progresses eating and drinking may diminish, causing dehydration, followed by infections such as UTI’s. We are introducing Joan to Innocent Smoothies, which act as mini-meals (and drinks), between meals, packed full of nutrients. These are available in many flavours and in vegetable and fruit variety.
Since Joan is on bedrest she can’t go out much and doesn’t get much interaction with other residents in her home. Conversation can be tricky if someone has lost the ability to speak through their dementia. Some days are easier to talk to loved ones than others and if they can’t respond as they used to, talking for an hour can be a difficult task. The idea for someone to take her out every day for an hour is great but if she can’t, due to weather, I have requested that her companion read to her.
There are many gallery bookshelves like this one which can be purchased for a reasonable price to store ideal ‘reads’. Roald Dahl’s Rhymes were always a family favourite and make people chuckle. They display well too on these type of shelves and create more visual interest to the room.
The calming element and most sensory item of all is the bubble tube with fish in. I picked one up for £35 here. Water and fish are a proven way to calm the mind and relax us. The bubbles float to the top of the tube and are also said to calm anyone anxious or unhappy. Distilled water is required for inside the tube, sold separately. We found roughly 8 litres was enough.
Benefits of Lavender:
- Reduce anxiety and emotional stress
•Protect against diabetes symptoms
•Improve brain function
•Help to heal burns and wounds
•Restore skin complexion and reduce acne
•Slow ageing with powerful antioxidants
The 2017 interior trend really was foliage and is showing no signs of slowing down. The Wardian which is currently under construction, around the corner from our office in Canary Wharf London, is the latest skyscraper to feature what can only be described as residential flats that look more like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The Wardian, Canary Wharf, London
I think this is a great theme for anyone generally and anyone in a care home. The theme can be paired down, re-created, matched with existing fabrics and furnishings or made as masculine or feminine as required. ‘Living in nature’ really could be the most idyllic way for us to reside.