The Importance of Flooring Selections in Dementia Care Communities

Senior living design

Flooring is an easily overlooked, yet very important part of a living space. Of all of the materials in a building, it is probably what sees the most abuse. It also has a huge impact on a room’s ambiance and the sound levels.

I wanted to talk about flooring today because I keep seeing projects where improper flooring is being used in memory care communities. There was just a viral story about a new memory care community that opened whose flooring outside the residents’ rooms was to look like a golf course. Everything about this community was so researched and so thoughtfully done. But then I saw the images of the carpet outside the residents’ rooms and I saw that some basic principles were missed.

Below are some things that must be considered when selecting flooring in memory care communities:

Pattern: Patterns should be subtle and smaller scale. Flooring is not a focal point in memory care communities, but a layer of the larger designed space. Larger patterns can be distracting and disorienting, as well as patterns with high contrast. Sometimes a resident with dementia will see something in a carpet that you may not expect. Darker squiggly lines could look like snakes, or scattered small circles or ovals could be mistaken for insects. I’ve even heard of residents getting down on the floor and trying to pick at dark specs in carpet. You do need some kind of texture and/or pattern to better hide wear as a solid color will show everything. Keep it subtle, keep it simple.

Contrast: This is quite possibly the most important factor in choosing flooring for memory care. Dark flooring often translates as a receding plane, or a hole. I was once told of a building where they had dark carpet borders going down the resident corridors as a transition between the corridor carpet and resident room flooring. The community found that residents were stepping over the border when they were coming out of their rooms, or didn’t want to come out at all because they were afraid they would fall. This also is important when looking at transitions from one flooring to another. If one room’s flooring is much darker than another, a resident may think that flooring is lower and avoid it. An easy way to test contrast is to squint your eyes when looking at the samples, or to put the flooring samples on a copier and print a black and white copy.

The contrast between the flooring and walls also needs to be considered. The wall base and/or wall color should contrast the flooring so it is clear to the resident where the floor ends and the wall begins. This gives them a sense of depth and orientation in the space. Furniture should also contrast the flooring so it is easier for residents to see and utilize.

Glare: To a resident with dementia, glare is viewed as the flooring being wet. This translates to being slippery or unsafe, and residents could avoid going in a space. Hard surfaces should have a matte finish to prevent this.

Flooring Heights: There should be minimal (if any) difference in height of flooring from room to room. Many rubber transition strips can be tripped over if they rise up off of the floor too high. Flooring should be butted together without a transition, or a system like Schluter can be used. Likewise, throw rugs should be avoided as the height difference is a huge tripping hazard.

Rachael’s Notes: Yes! Exactly. I’ve seen residents in dementia care communities try to pick up “objects” off the carpets when they are patterned designs. I actually had one resident in particular who would try to pick up the stripes in our carpet. It was really unsafe because she would lean down and try to hold her walker at the same time. The community was new and clean, but the designers who chose the flooring (and the fabric chairs, for that matter) did not take dementia-positive design into account!