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New use for an old Bush

Dementia patients helped with vintage home-makeovers

Written by . Published on January 4th 2012.

New use for an old Bush

IN a terraced house in Liverpool, ‘Mrs M’ switches on the radio and starts preparing her evening meal. But this is no ordinary radio. It is a 1960s styled Bush transistor model complete with circular dial and glossy cream finish. And it helps Mrs M, who has dementia, to remember where her food is stored.

Small, practical adjustments such as see-through drawers... can have a significant impact on an individual’s life, boosting their independence

There is no technical wizardry here. No recorded messages about cupboards, potatoes or tinned soup. Instead it’s all about memories. For Mrs M, the shape and sound of the old Bush radio brings back happy memories of preparing family meals while listening to the BBC’s Light Programme station.

Since Mrs M was diagnosed with dementia, her bouts of memory loss have increased. She often forgets where things are stored and the names of everyday objects slip her mind. Seeing her vintage radio, which has strong associations with cooking, helps Mrs M to remember to prepare meals and it reminds her where to find her corned beef. 

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This dementia care technique is called “retro-decorating”. With its roots in reminiscence therapies, councils and social landlords are beginning to use vintage furniture, old posters and objects in care homes and day care centres to re-assure residents, bring back positive memories and help them to remember every day tasks. Importantly, this technique has been shown to bring people out of a state of withdrawal – something very common amongst people with dementia. It is also thought that the calming effect of items from the past reduces the need for anti-psychotic drugs.

Riverside Home Improvement Agency Liverpool, part of the city’s 51,000-home social housing provider, is one such organisation pioneering this technique. The HIA’s objective is to support older people to live independently in their own homes. As such, they are retro-decorating the properties of individuals with dementia, working closely with them and their families to source old items that hold good memories.

Paul Booth, Regeneration Manager for Riverside explains: “We became aware of the work being done by the University of Stirling in the study of how interior design impacts upon the independence and general wellbeing of people living with dementia. Interior design issues such as lighting, reflective surfaces, and storage have a big impact on how successfully a person with dementia lives in their home.

For example the placement of mirrors is particularly important for people who have difficulty recalling faces, as they can be disturbed when catching a glimpse of themselves but not recognise the image.”

Case workers at Riverside HIA already visit people’s homes on a number of occasions to explore the different adaptations they need. This close engagement helps to build a picture of what makes a person with dementia tick. Combine this with the fact that home improvement agencies are often ‘sign posters’ – plugging residents into other public services that may be relevant to them – and it provides a strong foundation for the development of an effective dementia care plan.

Over in Lancashire, another home improvement agency - Hyndburn Homewise – is also developing alternative non-drug based dementia therapies.

They set their clients ‘life experience homework’. This involves talking to someone with dementia about their interests and skills and then designing a series of tasks based on what motivated and excited them in the past.

Retro-Decorated House 5 - CopyA retro-decorated houseThat might be asking an ex-farmer who loved travel to organise a family tour of some farming shows – something that could unlock his state of withdrawal.

Another technique being used by both is ‘dementia proofing’. People with dementia are much more sensitive to their environment - lighting glare can distort visual perception, difficulty with depth perception can make climbing the stairs much harder. Forgetting day-to-day tasks such as where clothes are stored or turning off taps can also present difficulties.

Small practical adjustments such as see-through drawers, flood alarms, glare-free lighting, appropriate placement of mirrors and coloured tape going up and down the stairs are all low cost but they can have a significant impact on an individual’s life, boosting their independence.

Estimates suggest that there are currently around 750,000 people with dementia in the UK. Researchers forecast that this will increase to over 1.7m by 2051 and the UK government currently spends around £8.2b per year on dementia care.

We know that up to 25 per cent of hospital beds are taken up by people with dementia and reducing the number of beds by 10 per cent could save £1 billion. We also know that dementia care as it stands is high-cost, too drug dependent and arguably not of a high enough standard.

So could cheap, home-based interventions such as retro-decorating and dementia-proofing point to the future of dementia care? For Mrs M, a simple 1960s radio has made a big difference to her life.

For more information on home improvement agencies, visit www.foundations.uk.com

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AnonymousJanuary 4th 2012.

I haven't seen my corned beef for years either

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