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Colour their world

Sight is arguably our most developed ‘sense’ which makes us very visual creatures. Our ability to distinguish between different hues, tones and saturation was once necessary for our survival, now-days we use colour for anything from visual pleasure, to express ourselves and to even try an alter our mood.

It is no wonder then that colour has an important place in helping people manage dementia. Good use of color and contrast can help facilitate independent living,

With push to keep people in their own homes for longer it is great to see that their are relatively easy changes people can make to their homes to help support people who suffer from dementia. There are various amounts of research that focus around the use of colour therapies and their effectiveness, however I am going to highlight a few simple (and relatively cheap) things that you can do that can help someone you may know who is caring for someone with dementia in their own homes.


Those living with dementia can experience memory loss and disorientation. By painting rooms different colours, people can be cued as to what type of space it is they are in. Keeping those colours consistent (i.e. all bathroom spaces using similar colours) should reduce disorientation and enable them to regain their independence.

Using colour and tonal contrasts to emphasise important features, such as to contrast between walls and floor coverings will hopefully minimise the risks of falls. Contrast in colour or tone can also be used to focus on important doors, such as the person’s own room or toilet doors. Likewise, blending doors in with the wall colour will make them ‘disappear’ and it is more likely that the person will not enter them.

People may not always find it easy to remember the significance of colours, so it may be helpful to have other visual cues in addition to colour. Contrast is important when using signage. The golden rules for this is:

  • Black writing on white background.
  • Use a font with serifs (such as Times New Roman).
  • Use upper and lower case, bold and a minimum size of 60pt.

People with dementia tend to look down rather than up, so ensure signage is placed in their line of sight – this could be just above door handle height.

Lighting also plays a big part in being able to recognize visual clues. Making sure there is sufficient amount of daylight, or light that mimics this in darker spaces, is essential.


In outdoor spaces are also important. Going outdoors has been shown to have multiple benefits including; providing physical exercise; helping to maintain normal sleeping patterns and daily rhythms; improving mood and helping people to cope with stress.

Contrast can help to highlight both key features and hazards in outdoor spaces. Having well defined paths are important as they can help people find their way around outdoor spaces. ‘Blending’ in doors leading out onto the street to the boundary fence is a good way to reduce the risk of people wandering off.  Plantings should include different textures, smells and sounds including different colours. Warm colours such as oranges, reds and yellows may be easier for people to pick out than cooler colours such as blue.

The knowledgeable use of colour is undoubtedly helpful in creating the most supportive environment for independence and social and emotional wellbeing.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.