Myths of Dementia Care Design

Working in dementia care communities, you come across a number of erroneous, but often repeated, statements about dementia. We’ve both heard the following a number of times, and it’s interesting that, while they continue to be wrong, these myths live on.

  • You can’t use any breakable decor in dementia care.

First, let’s define “breakable”: not everything has to be child-proof in dementia care communities! People with dementia aren’t likely to drop items on purpose or┬ábreak items because they feel like it. Unless you are in a SNF, most communities allow glass with no issues. Just be smart about where you put ceramic or glass decor, as you would in your own home. For example, don’t put fragile items on end tables that could be bumped, but instead on built-in shelving.

  • Fake and real plants…won’t they eat them?

Most people aren’t excited about eating flowers from a vase, and people with dementia aren’t any different. While there are individuals with very advanced dementia who put inedible objects in their mouths, this is still very rare. If you are going to put flowers on the table, real ones always look nicer if you have the budget. The exception would be things like fake fruit arrangements or greenery with berries. If it looks like it could be edible, then you may have a resident try to eat it.

  • Having life skill stations…won’t the residents take everything?

I’ve often told staff, “That’s the point!” Residents live in communities. It’s their home! If they want to pick up objects and move them around, or take them to their rooms, that’s great. We want to encourage interaction, not discourage it.

  • You shouldn’t have mirrors in communities because all residents will get upset and not recognize themselves.

We’ve heard this a number of times. Really, it’s rare that a person with dementia won’t recognize themselves, and, if someone IS at that point in their dementia, it doesn’t seem to bother them: they just think it’s someone else. Although we want to stay away from excessive use of mirrors in places like corridors, we also don’t want to manipulate the world of someone with dementia to make it more confusing and stressful by taking away common objects. Mirrors are also required by code in restrooms to meet ADA code.

  • Residents shouldn’t have access to real scissors or butter knives.

This one drives us crazy! People with dementia aren’t criminals, and they are still adults who know how to use sharp objects. Taking away someone’s butter knife is going to do one thing, and one thing only: limit their ability to eat food independently.

  • Adding a name to a resident’s door will help them find the door.

Really, the best way to help a resident find their room is to add a photo of a younger version of themselves to the door. Some people with dementia cannot recognize written words, but will be able to recognize photos.

Are there any myths in dementia care that drive you crazy? Comment below!