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Making home safe and comfortable for someone with dementia

To help a person with dementia maintain their independence and quality of life, it’s important to make their home as safe and comfortable as possible. This needn’t be expensive or disruptive – small changes often make a big difference.

A good way to identify any changes that might benefit the person you care for is to take a tour around their home, looking for potential problems and ways to make improvements. If possible, involve the person in any changes you make.

To help the person with dementia recognise their home, avoid making noticeable changes outside, such as to the colour of the door. Try to look after any trees or plants so the outside area looks consistent. A large door number is also helpful.

If the person is prone to falls, install handrails next to steps, or consider converting steps into a ramp. Ensure there is adequate lighting in case they are coming or going in the dark – a motion sensor light means they will not have to remember to turn it on or off.

A doorbell with a video camera is a useful safety measure to monitor who is coming to and leaving the property.

You could also fit a key safe with a combination code so family members, carers or the emergency services can let themselves in if the person with dementia cannot open the door.

Inside, keep the hallway uncluttered so it’s easy to get in and out. Keep keys in a set place, such as a drawer in a hall table – make sure they’re not visible from the outside through a window or glass panel, as this may attract intruders.

The kitchen can be a hazardous place for people with dementia, but there are ways to make it safer and easier to navigate.

  • Keep cups, teabags and other frequently used items on the kitchen counter
  • Replace solid cupboard doors with clear doors so the person can see what’s inside, or stick lists or photographs of the contents to the doors
  • If possible, install taps that are clearly marked ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ or if this isn’t possible, write the words on labels beside the taps
  • Check use-by dates regularly and discard anything that is out of date
  • Consider buying independent living aids such as adaptive chopping boards, can/jar openers, graters, etc
  • Keep toxic cleaning products in a locked cupboard
  • Speak to the gas supplier about installing a gas valve limiter – these are usually free, and prevent gas hobs being turned on accidentally or left on
  • Use a flood and scald protection plug in the sink – these change colour if the water is too hot, and automatically drain the water once it gets to a certain depth if the tap is left running. They are available from shops selling living aids and assistive technology

Living rooms should be relaxing and cosy, so ensure chairs and sofas are comfortable and offer good support. Assistive furniture, which helps people stand up and sit down more easily, can be very useful – although sometimes expensive.

The living room is one of the most common places where falls happen, but you can take steps here and throughout the home to reduce the risk.

  • Remove rugs, or make sure the edges are stuck down
  • Keep the floor clear of clutter, especially trailing wires
  • Check that the person’s slippers and shoes fit properly
  • Keep essential objects like glasses and remote controls in a set place, within easy reach
  • Take away electric fires or heaters that could be accidentally left on or tripped over
  • Remove furniture with thin legs that could be tripped over
  • A personal alarm that the person can press if they fall may offer reassurance – these are usually worn on a lanyard

Although many people enjoy having the TV or radio on, try to avoid leaving them on if the person is no longer watching or listening. Background noise or sudden loud noises can cause confusion and distress, which could lead to accidents. You can buy simple remote controls with large, clearly labelled buttons that work with any television.

It’s important that the bedroom is a safe, relaxing place where it’s easy to get ready for bed, sleep well, and get dressed in the morning. You can help by:

  • reducing clutter, so there is plenty of room around the bed
  • fitting heavy curtains or a blackout blind to help the person sleep
  • choosing bedding that is appropriate for the weather – if the person is too hot or cold, they are more likely to be unsettled
  • giving them an easy-to-read clock to help them distinguish day and night
  • using a touch-operated bedside light or a nightlight in case they get up during the night
  • installing a movement or bed sensor to alert you if the person gets up
  • fitting a waterproof mattress cover if the person has continence issues, or providing incontinence pads or pants
  • laying out clothes ready for the morning – some people with dementia find it difficult to find and choose clothes in drawers or wardrobes

Many people with dementia have problems with vision and how they perceive objects, colours and patterns, which can cause confusion in the bathroom.

It may help to:

  • stick a written sign or a picture of a toilet to the door to help the person locate the bathroom
  • fit a coloured toilet seat that is a different colour from the toilet itself, so it’s easy to see
  • use coloured toilet paper on a freestanding holder
  • choose brightly coloured towels so they stand out on the towel rail

Other steps to make the bathroom safer include:

  • keeping the toilet lid up
  • leaving the light on at night
  • removing toilet and bathmats, so that the person doesn’t slip on them
  • installing grab rails at useful points around the bathroom
  • using flood and scald prevention plugs

Walls and flooring can be difficult to change, but if you are redecorating, or if the person with dementia is moving somewhere new, there are a few things you could consider.

  • Where possible, choose matt flooring and walls – shiny surfaces can appear wet or slippery
  • Choose block colours rather than busy, patterned carpets or wallpaper
  • Try to use one colour/type of carpet or flooring throughout: changes in pattern or colour can look like an obstacle or step
  • Paint walls a different colour from the floors
  • Ensure there are sturdy bannisters or rails on the stairs

A well-lit home can help the person with dementia find their way around and reduce the risk of falls.

  • Create more natural light by fitting light coloured curtains and taking down net curtains or blinds
  • During the day, open curtains fully to let in light
  • Place the person’s favourite chair by a window so they’re sitting in daylight and can enjoy watching what’s happening outside
  • To help the person move around safely after dark, fit high wattage light bulbs in main lights, and use low-level lights or plug-in nightlights in hallways
  • Use timer plugs on lamps so they switch on and off at appropriate times

If you care for someone with dementia, it’s important to ensure their home is as safe as possible from fire. Local fire services can often carry out a free safety check and possibly fit free smoke alarms. Contact your local fire service to find out if this is on offer.

  • Fit smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home, and a heat detector in the kitchen
  • Test smoke alarms once a month
  • If smoke alarms are battery powered, the batteries should be replaced every six months
  • Mains-powered smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years
  • Have gas and electric appliances checked annually
  • Ask your gas supplier about installing a gas valve limiter to prevent gas hobs or ovens being left on
  • Fit a cooker guard, which senses if an electric oven has been left on or the temperature is too high, and cuts the power – these are available from companies selling assistive living products
  • Ensure bedding, cushions and throws are fire retardant
  • Stick clear, typed instructions near appliances that use heat – for example, you could remind the person not to put foil and metal in the microwave, or to turn the iron off at the plug

If the person with dementia struggles to remember the layout of their home or where things are kept, labels and signs can be very helpful. 

To avoid overwhelming the persondon’t introduce too many signs at once. Start with the ones that will help the most – you could put a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door, or label the fridge with pictures of milk and cheese 

Signs should be clear, easy to understand, and at eye level. You can find images online to download and print, or buy signs from assistive living stores. 

If the person with dementia has memory problems, you could try:

  • hanging a whiteboard somewhere conspicuous to write reminders of appointments, events, visitors etc
  • displaying a large ‘dementia clock’ which shows not just the time, but also the day, date and time of day (ie morning, afternoon, evening, night)
  • setting audible reminders on the person’s phone or smart speaker, but only if you are sure they will not be distressed or confused by them

Support with making the home safe and comfortable

Occupational therapists (OTs) work with people with dementia to identify daily activities that they find difficult and suggest ways to make them easier, including giving advice on home equipment and adaptations.

You can ask your GP for a referral, or contact your local council for advice. Alternatively, you could arrange a private appointment: you can find a registered OT near you through the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

A needs assessment aims to establish what help a person might need to cope day to day. This might include assistive living products like a walking frame or a personal alarm, or changes to the home like a walk-in shower.

The assessment is usually carried out by a social worker or occupational therapist. It is free, and anyone can ask for one by contacting social services.

Bear in mind that you may need to pay for any home adjustments or equipment that are recommended. This is means-tested based on the person’s finances.

A home assessment is similar to a needs assessment but looks specifically at home adaptations and equipment to support daily living. You can arrange one online or by contacting your local council.

Your local council should fund small adaptations that cost under £1,000, such as grab rails or security lighting. If larger, more expensive changes are recommended, like fitting a stairlift or converting a bathroom to a wet room, you may need to pay for them yourself.

People with dementia may be entitled to a grant towards the cost of home adjustments. These include:

Many companies sell or hire living aids and assistive technology to make daily activities easier for the person with dementia. These companies will be happy to help you choose the right products to meet their needs, or you can contact our dementia specialist Admiral Nurses for independent advice.

If you have any questions or concerns relating to dementia, call our free Dementia Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm every day except 25th December), email or you can book a virtual appointment with an Admiral Nurse via phone or video call. 

Dementia UK resources

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