Color Theory and Dementia
For people living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD), the world around them significantly impacts how they engage, react, and enjoy life. Caregivers often seek supportive tips and tricks for behavior management, but what if I told you that you can modify and even prevent behaviors associated with dementia by using color? Let me explain.
Many studies have been conducted on light as well as color with varying results. However, most experts agree that the use of colors, especially for someone living with dementia, can help in improving their quality of life.
Red is a bold color that can elicit certain behaviors when used in the right way. Research indicates that red increases the perceived temperature of a room. For example, if a person is often cold when the air temperature is already warm to others, try “warming” the room with red blankets or pillows. When painted on walls, red can make a very large space appear smaller, and if the colored is painted above eye level it may encourage someone to leave that space. Lastly, red can stimulate an appetite for a someone living with dementia. Is your loved one not eating enough? Try serving dinner from a red plate. Studies have shown that serving meals on red plates can increase appetite by as much as 33% in person with ADRD.
Blue is often associated with peace and calm (think of a blue sky or ocean) and research shows that the color blue can lower blood pressure and anxiety. Painting a room blue can not only create a more calming environment but can cause a room to appear larger. Unlike light blue – dark blue can aid in appetite suppression for a person with ADRD. If your loved one is overeating or a physician is encouraging weight loss, try serving meals on dark blue plates as a few studies show that this method resulted in up to a 28% reduction in unnecessary overeating.
Green is symbolic of rebirth and renewal. Green has been proven to reduce central nervous system activity, creating a sense of calming the most restful of all the colors. Like red, when painted on the wall, green can make a small room appear larger. Most importantly, lime green is a vibrant color the eye can see as it ages. Lime green has been proven to be effective in bringing attention to important people, places, and things. For example, my organization dresses our caregivers in lime green shirts so that our residents with ADRD can more easily identify people who can help. At home, you can use lime green to create visual cues. For example, if your loved one is safe to use a microwave but forgets how to turn it on, try labeling the button with lime green tape or to reduce falls in the bathroom, try to use a light green toilet seat to provide contrast.
Black is a color to pay special attention to if your loved one has been diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia as they often perceive black as scary or intimidating when worn from the kneecap down. This suggests that dressing in pants and shoes of a lighter color may help prevent difficult interactions. In addition, be sure to check your front door mat because if it is black, your loved one may perceive it as a hole in the ground. Swap out it out with a lighter-colored mat that also contrasts with the surrounding spaces.
For more tips and insight into color and dementia care, please reach out to Joshua Freitas at [email protected].
Joshua Freitas, Vice President of Program Development at CERTUS Premier Memory Care Living, is an award-winning memory care program developer, researcher, and author. He holds five certifications related to dementia care and has studied at some of the world’s most renowned colleges and universities, including Lesley University, Harvard University, and Berklee College of Music. Mr. Freitas is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Clinical Gerontology and Aging Neuroscience.