The Significance of Lifestyle on a Person with Dementia
It is well-documented that human mental health emerges from a complex interplay between genetic, psychological, lifestyle, and other factors. In addition, people are also exposed to numerous environments. These environmental exposures (e.g., green space, noise, air pollution, weather conditions, housing conditions) might trigger mental disorders or be protective factors, facilitating stress reduction and mental recovery. *The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. (2018). Mental Health and Environmental Exposures. V.15.
For a person with dementia, protecting the brain through stress-minimisation is paramount. As advocates of a stress-free environment, Leaf believes that the most effective dementia care is delivered by care home teams whose housing conditions enable desired lifestyles—ways of living that are likely to reflect the lives of residents when they lived independently.
Too often do we come across care home designs that present a clinical environment with white-washed walls, staff-access-only kitchens, and not a biscuit crumb to be seen. It’s a model that’s used time after time. To a point, it works, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way, a method that plays to the core needs of a resident with dementia, supporting their wellbeing and giving them their freedom within a protected environment.
Research-led and evidence-backed, a person-centric system for dementia living will put lifestyle and environment at the centre of human existence. At Leaf, every day, we see our residents benefiting from levels of involvement according to their ideas, whether that be using the kitchen to help with baking, peeling the potatoes, or setting the table. It is what they have always done, what they know, and what they love. We do all we can to support our people with safe, everyday living in their otherwise altered world.
It is essential to recognise that the environment of a dementia care home can either facilitate or discourage human interaction and involvement with activities based on its layout, its décor, and its surrounding smells. Let us think about how we feel when we meet a friend for coffee. On a chilly Autumnal day, we might seek out a cozy chair situated in a bright window of a coffee shop, a warm radiator to our left, and a view of fresh sausage rolls on the counter to our right. The experience enrobed in smells of freshly brewed coffee and low conversational tones of others catching up with loved ones. We feel safe, and we enjoy the experience. Why should a care home feel any different?
A comfortable, visually appealing space—decorated walls and eye-catching lighting—designed to promote interaction, encourages visits from family and friends, and elongates the time that they might choose to stay. With a similar vibe to the coffee shop, we provide afternoon tea as our residents sit in comfortable chairs, play games, watch TV, or listen to music. Our people are safe yet independent, relaxed but still engaged.
We have noticed that a peaceful and visually pleasing setting can positively influence an individual’s behaviour and enhance motivation to get involved with others through daily activities. Living conditions that reflect a person with dementia’s previous home can have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing.
Observation has taught us that empowering our residents to live a lifestyle that closely reflects the one that they knew helps to validate them as a person. Our residents are supported by professionals to cope in daily life, surrounded by the things they love, situated in a bedroom that has been furnished in the style of their own home or choosing.
It is a cozy Autumnal evening; our residents are assisted by staff as they pour their tea. As they munch into the afternoons home bakes, biscuit crumbs fall to the floor, and a web-spinning spider in the windows-arch becomes this evening’s conversational topic. There is chat, laughter, warmth, and there are smiles. The crumbs will be swept, and the cobweb cleared. This scene is the epitome of safe, supported, authentic living.