Dementia and Colors
Could it really be true that different colors can actually have an impact on our moods? Interestingly, a lot of research* has been done over a number of years on the effect of different colors on the brain and human behavior, and it is increasingly apparent that different colors are interpreted differently by our brains and that they can actually have a subliminal impact on how we feel at any given moment. As a result, it does appear that careful choice and use of color can be helpful in improving quality of care for people living with dementia.
The use of contrast in colors can be used to help define objects more clearly. So using a color with high contrast with its immediate background will draw attention to key features. In fact, the use of contrasting colors is very helpful in marking the edges of things; it can draw attention to furniture, or hazards that might cause someone to trip, or even to more easily find the toilet seat in an all-white bathroom.
Extending this principle into other areas, you might differentiate the colors that you choose for pillows, sheets and blankets, or to using dinner plates that are a different color to a tablecloth, for example. Other suggestions include using a contrasting wall color, so that it will be easier for someone to locate switches, sockets and handrails.
There are studies that suggest that the color red can increase brain activity. It can also lead to a perception that a room is warm. Additionally, red can increase appetite and encourage eating when featured in plates and cups. It also figures that any dinnerware that is a different color to the food placed on it is helpful to someone living with dementia. Further research indicates that the color red can also promote participation; for example, red shoes might actually encourage someone to enjoy a walk. Oddly though, a caregiver might want to avoid wearing red clothes, as the color red can also sometimes be perceived as intimidating
The color green is associated with nature, and lighter shades of green can promote relaxation and calm. It is perceived as a restful color and can help to reduce central nervous activity. The use of green may also lead a room to be perceived as larger than it actually is.
Lime green, more specifically, has been shown to be effective for people living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, in providing visual cues to the location of doors to bathrooms, or bedrooms.
In addition, research has shown that the color green is one of the last colors that we lose the ability to see, so placing a piece of green tape on a cane, or a walker, or other items that people need to use every day, can be very useful. Not surprisingly, green is a good color for Caregivers to wear as it fosters feelings of engagement, relaxation and calm.
Purple is a color that has been shown to stimulate the imagination and also spirituality. Purple objects are often perceived as being valuable.
This belief dates back thousands of years as the physical resources needed to create a purple dye was very hard to come by; purple is uncommon in nature and was therefore very costly to create. As a result, only the elite could use purple dye. The association of the color purple with royalty and extravagance persists even today.
So, it might be a good idea to choose purple as a way to encourage someone to think of an object as desirable.
The color yellow has been shown to increase feelings of happiness; people tend to smile more in yellow rooms, and individuals with dementia tend to stay longer in rooms that are painted yellow.
Blue is a color that promotes relaxation; blue rooms can reduce any feelings of confusion and increase concentration. Blue has been shown to be a restful color, with a calming effect. Research shows that using blue in the physical environment can actually lower blood pressure, and that blue rooms are seemingly cooler than rooms painted in shades of red or orange.
This may seem like stating the obvious, but white is a difficult color to see. As a result, an all-white room can appear to be circular to someone with dementia. It might be a good idea to paint an accent wall in a different color or create a colorful focal point somewhere in a white room.
Also perhaps unsurprisingly, the color black can be associated with fear or sadness. As a result, if you wear black it might make it difficult to communicate with someone who has dementia. A black carpet would also be a poor choice, as it may appear like a large black hole to someone living with the condition. Conversely, a black mat in front of an external door might be a good disincentive.
Caring for Someone with Dementia and Colors Used in their Environment
As you are able to select colors of objects and surrounding of your loved one living with dementia, keep in mind the findings of studies on color and its impact on mood and perception. Some ideas of how you might utilize colors: Walls could be painted green or blue. Use plates that are red. Mark important doors, like bathrooms and bedrooms with lime green tape, but paint the door going outside black so they are less likely to wander out accidentally. Be sure steps or any other potential hazards are clear with a high contrast color to its immediate surroundings. Wear green.
- Can Color Affect Our Mood and Cognition? It Depends | Psychology Today
- How do colors in my home change my mood? Color psychology explained | Mental Health America (mhanational.org)
- Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel? (verywellmind.com)
- What Is Color Psychology? How Color Affects Emotions, Behaviors, and Mental Health (webmd.com)