Signs that Care

It is, therefore, essential that care home operators address the special needs of residents with dementia when considering the signs to be used in and around their buildings so that residents can find their way around with no detrimental impact on their quality of life.

Prof Andrea Tales, from Swansea University said “people with dementia can feel lost when faced with a corridor of blank doors.” Tales, continues in saying  “while the way to toilets in shops, restaurants, hotels and leisure centres was often well signposted, on the way back “in far too many premises one opens the door to be faced by an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ plethora of doors”.

Clear and easy –to-read signage is a must for people when they are moving home to a care environment. Typically people with dementia can forget the names of things but remember what they look like. Pictures and images can be fundamental in recognising and understanding directions and points of interest more than words. Another key consideration is to use graphics that reflect the style of images and fashion in the period when the residents were young and growing up, avoiding the use of contemporary images and typefaces.Signs should also have a clear outline with strong contrasts. People with dementia often lose colour perception with yellow being the last colour to go; therefore yellow and orange colours tend to work best for identifying signage. They find looking at items against a very dark or white background ‘blurry’ and difficult, so pale backgrounds are often used.

People with dementia often have stronger early memories, so the style of items that they recognise may be different from those in current usage. For example they may remember toilets that they will actually encounter in daily life today so, to be effective, the sign images used must reflect their past memory of things.

Another development has been the introduction of the ‘memory boxes’ for bedroom doors. These can contain objects, assorted memorabilia, photographs, documents and other meaningful items. These have proved very useful for orientation purposes when the person reaches their room and beneficial for relatives to be able to assist with adding to the memory box.

Addressing the special needs of people with dementia, some of the lead companies in the UK sign-making industry have been working on significant new developments for care homes- this include the use of innovative materials, images and graphics to help residents find their way safely and with confidence. In tandem with these developments, many care homes also want signs that are not simply utilitarian and ‘out of a catalogue’. They require high quality signs in keeping with the standard of their own built environment. This can mean a bespoke, tailored solution has to be designed and manufactured.

Architects and contractors will naturally be concerned with design factors in appealing to the aspirations of purchasers and relatives; energy efficiency; the effective use of space and optimum occupancy rates. Whilst residents ‘quality of life will, of course, be considered. Signs may not be given much prominence despite the impact that they can have on a development. All the evidence now points to the high proportions of residents in care homes with dementia. And this number will only rise in the future. I think it is, therefore, vital that with new builds and refurbishments projects wayfinding is given a higher priority and operators take advantage of the new sign systems available to care homes.

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