Designing bathrooms for people with dementia

// refurb and maintenance

What is a dementia-friendly bathroom?
A dementia-friendly bathroom can greatly improve a person’s safety and preserve their independence for as long as possible. With some simple design and installation adjustments, housing associations can create dementia-friendly bathrooms.

Why should housing associations think about introducing more dementia friendly bathrooms?

Reason 1: As our population ages, dementia is becoming much more prevalent:
Sources: *1 Alzheimers Society factsheet

Reason 2: The bathroom is one of the most challenging and dangerous places for a person with dementia

What home adaptations are needed?
The level of adaptation needed will vary depending on the case of the individual, however with the right adoption of daily living aids a person can remain comfortable, mobile and safe in their own home.

To minimise the risk of scalds, slips and falls, bathroom adaptation should go beyond the installation of grab rails and instead result in the creation of an optimum space that is both safe and comfortable, whilst supporting independence.

Safety and familiarity are key
Key considerations for a dementia friendly bathroom are safety and familiarity. Over time a person with dementia becomes less aware of basic dangers such as scalding. In addition, for some people with dementia, adaptations can be distressing as they may fail to recognise their own bathroom. This can be avoided if a dementia-friendly bathroom adaptation is made as soon as possible after a dementia diagnosis has been given, giving the person time to familiarise themselves with their new bathroom products and layout.

Here are the seven major dementia challenges that can be overcome with good design in any bathroom adaptation:

1)  Protection against scalding
As dementia progresses so too does the loss of safety awareness, making those with the condition especially susceptible to scalding:
•  Thermostatically controlled taps and showers are very important additions to any bathroom
•  Exposed pipework should be avoided, and only low surface temperature radiators and towel rails installed to further enhance protection against burns
•  AKW’s iCare electric shower ensures safe and stable temperatures and eliminates the threat of scald injuries.

2) Fall prevention
People with dementia are twice as likely to fall as their peers and have a three times greater mortality rate three months later as a result:
•  Avoid sharp edges on any products installed in the bathroom and take out floor-standing furniture
•  Remove the bath and install a level access shower to reduce trip hazards and include a shower seat to reduce the likelihood of falling when showering
•  Choose PET plastic shower screens such as AKW’s Silverdale screen panels, not glass ones.

3) Memory loss
Short-term memory loss and forgetfulness can also significantly increase the risk of flooding in a housing association bathroom if the shower or a tap is left on after use:
•  Include flood-proof plugs in the basins and opt for showers that have an auto shut-off function
•  AKW’s dementia-friendly iShower range of showers automatically shut down after 30 minutes of use if left running to avoid accidental overflows.

4) Retro memory
People with dementia have a good long-term memory, so are more familiar with fixtures and fittings that are from the past:
•  Incorporate traditionally designed fixtures and fittings into any refurbishment, such as cross-headed taps and a conventional toilet flush rather than modern push-button devices
•  Install basins that are large enough to accommodate a toothbrush mug, to make sure residents feel that the items in the space are as familiar and comfortable as possible.

5) Mirror confusion
It is usually important to include mirrors in bathrooms, but for a number of people with dementia, the reflection of their face can be frightening, as they could believe another person is in the room with them. To overcome this, it is wise to fit a roller blind above the sink so the mirror can be covered when necessary.

6) Floor colour
Consistent flooring shades are crucial as a person with dementia can interpret a change in floor colour as a step up or down that can lead to trips or falls on a level surface. Specifically, dark colours can seem like gaping holes and a speckled effect can appear to be flecks of dirt. Ultimately, a light, uniform colour is advised to avoid these problems.

7) Visual confusion
Incorporating contrasting colours in bathrooms can help users with dementia to effectively define and locate separate sections of the room, such as the shower and toilet areas. For example, contrast should be used to help differentiate a grab bar from a wall and the toilet seat from the pan. A minimum LRV (light reflecting value) of 30 points of difference between colours is needed.

AKW are specialists in providing advice and equipment for creating dementia friendly bathrooms. Using AKW accessible products and person-centric design, dementia-friendly bathrooms can be created in housing association properties simply and at no extra cost than a standard bathroom adaptation.

For more information visit www.akw-ltd.co.uk and see the company’s dementia-friendly bathroom guide.

View The Latest Issue