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Color Preference and Dementia

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I once went to a dementia course where I learned, gratefully, that red was the best color to use if I wanted to get my patient’s attention.  Armed with this information, I started using the color red as a strategy to improve attention to the environment.  Red garbage cans, red stop signs, red toothbrush, red cup… I told every caregiver the secret to success was the color red.

Then I went to a dementia course where the presenter shared the news that lime green was the best color to use with my patients with dementia if I wanted them to remember to use their walker, attend to a sign, or find their rooms.  Again, I shared the news that lime green was now the color of choice for Alzheimer’s and visual attention.

A colleague of mine had heard bright blue was best, so that was what she used as a visual cue when marking items.  Another colleague said yellow, being the color of caution, never failed to serve it’s purpose with her clients.

I decided to look into the whole matter myself.

Margaret P. Calkins PhD. wrote a fine article called Using Color as a Therapeutic Tool.  She explains the subject matter much better than I could, but the take home message is that the research is lacking.  Color preference in persons with dementia were blue, red, and green.  Does this mean that entire rooms should be painted one of these colors?  Or do we want to keep things in the background muted, and only use color for accent and interest?Is any shade, tint, or hue of each color is still preferred?

I think it tells us that we need to use colors that work, specific to the person, the situation, and the item that needs attention.  Factors like light, glare, and the presence/absence of eye disease sometimes have far more significance than color.  I would add that consistency with color use could be advantageous, so that Bill knows that his toothbrush will always blue and therefore easier to locate.  The use of contrast is extremely important for marking edges of things, drawing attention to chair legs or other tripping hazards, and making it easier to locate food on the plate or the toilet seat in a white on white bathroom.

I would be interested to hear what your findings are with color use.  I’ve used blue painter’s tape before (mostly because it is inexpensive and easily removed) to mark an “X” where the wheelchair should be parked or where they should put their feet before sitting.  Sometimes I think it gets their attention only because it ticks them off, “Who put that tape on my floor!”

Hey, whatever works… right?

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6 comments

  1. You provide such interesting perspectives! Beyond pure color considerations however — I believe we need to incorporate custom oversize visual cues for folks that are specific to them and their behavioral challenge that needs attention. A strategic photo with text that will evoke a positive emotion can go a long way. Display of the custom visual cues in the ‘common areas’ of the home / memory care unit (vs. the room) is crucial and essential. This will enhance communication, be utilized as a redirect tool,…and is a stride towards making for a ‘home-like’ environment …this slight modification to the environment works. Sue@memoryphotoart.com

  2. i work on a memory care unit as a acclivities coordinator. I was just told yesterday that red was not a good color. This was told buy the administer director of the corp company, what is the best color. our table clothes are red, blue, white, and tan .

    • Dianna, I’m afraid I just don’t know the answer to that. I’ve heard that red can evoke feelings of anger, but that it is also stimulating and arousing. I use red a lot as an attentional cue- red garbage can, red cautionary tape, red stop sign… But it terms of red in the environment (walls, carpet), I really don’t pay attention to much of that anymore. The science seems to fluctuate on the matter, so I look at it in terms of “cool” and “warm” tones. But even then, how a person responds to either color or tone may be a more a matter of personal preference and sensory processing/perception than dementia.

  3. At this very moment the hallways and common areas of the dementia unit where I work are being painted khaki – sort of a light brown/tan; paneling underneath is being painted dark brown. I gather from reading this and a couple of other articles that perhaps it makes little difference, but I can not help myself from thinking that there must be something better!!!!! I don’t think it will be uplifting for the residents, but surely not for the staff. Any thoughts from others?

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