Focus on the right flooring for dementia

John Mellor, Polyflor’s Market Manager for safety flooring, explains why selecting a floor covering embodying modern, dementia-friendly design principles is increasingly important and spotlights the research behind the thinking

According to latest figures from the Alzheimer’s Society, more than 850,000 people are living with dementia in the UK – and the rate of diagnosis is rising.

Clearly, healthcare buildings need to be future-proofed to meet all the required design requirements and contribute to an improved quality of life for those living with dementia.

Implementing dementia-friendly design principles in new or refurbished facilities will be beneficial in the longer term, ensuring flexibility in design and prolonging the life cycle of a building.

Along with appropriate acoustics, lighting and signage to aid navigation, the floor and walls of a healthcare environment are integral components of the interior space. They can provide a homely, welcoming and non-institutional feel to reduce anxiety and stress for those living with dementia.

If someone with dementia feels more relaxed and comfortable because of the interior environment surrounding them, they’re also less likely to be disorientated and potentially suffer a fall or accident.

Dementia-friendly flooring is appropriate for a range of diverse settings including housing, sheltered extra-care housing, dementia hubs and respite care, day centres, hospitals, hospices, rehabilitation and intermediate care facilities as well as residential care and nursing home environments.

Vinyl is well recognised as a flooring type used regularly in the healthcare sector due to its ‘easy to clean’ properties and realistic reproductions of natural materials such as wood and stone etc.

These design styles were previously only offered in luxury vinyl tile collections. Today, they’re also available on sheet vinyl products, which means attractive decorative safety flooring ranges featuring sustainable wet slip resistance can now help create the same positive ambience in a care setting.

Impact of sight loss

However, when selecting a floor covering for a dementia-friendly environment it is important to remember that one in three people diagnosed with dementia will have significant sight loss, including reduction of peripheral vision and changes to colour vision. Large proportions of the remainder will also have deteriorating sight through normal ageing.

This is why it is incredibly important to consider the appearance of any potential floor covering and how it might be perceived by someone with dementia.

New principles

The University of Salford has been working with the industry to develop some new dementia-friendly flooring principles to assist specifiers working on dementia care projects.

These principles-cross-refer with The Department of Health HBN 08-02 (2015) document and have been discussed and agreed with The Salford Dementia Associates, a group of people who are living with or caring for someone with dementia.

The following aspects of flooring design and specification are some useful examples of the developed principles that can help those with dementia to feel more at ease:

• Use a matt flooring as shiny or glossy surfaces can cause glare and give the illusion of wetness and thus the feeling that the floor is slippy, which can cause confusion. Use a product without sparkle or shimmer as this can also make the floor look wet.

• Choose a floor without highly contrasting secondary flecks and speckles, as someone with dementia could see these as something to pick up off the ground. Tonal flecks or solid colour designs are preferable.

• The use of subtle effects that replicate natural outdoor materials such as wood and stone promotes a homely, fresh feel that people living with dementia are more familiar with.

• Floors featuring various patterns and textures should be avoided as this can lead to confusion and increased aggravation in those living with dementia. Flooring which contributes to sensory overload can confuse the eye and cause someone with dementia to wrongly perceive it as a step, an obstacle or a hole.

• The floor needs to be seen and experienced as one continuous surface. Use flooring with similar tones and light reflectance values (LRVs) in adjacent areas as a strong contrast in colour can be perceived as a step. However, a strong contrast – a difference in LRV of 30 points – is required between the colour of walls, skirting boards and floors, as well as between floors and furniture as this can help those who are visually impaired to navigate around a room.

• Strong colours with more depth are better than paler shades for those whose colour vision has deteriorated. However, dark colours should be avoided as these could trigger emotions of imprisonment or might be viewed as a hole in the floor.

• Acoustic flooring is recommended to absorb noise and reduce impact sound levels between rooms as noise can agitate those with dementia.