Dementia-friendly environments: Kitchens and dining areas

Kitchens

Making it clear where things are - whether in a kitchen or a dining room - always helps a person with dementia. A kitchen should be easily identifiable as a kitchen. This means having a cooker, perhaps with a traditional style. In modern fitted kitchens, fridges and other white goods are often hidden behind plain kitchen unit doors. If you have a memory problem, this can pose difficulties, forcing you to hunt for them. Either take off the doors or use labels or photographs to make it clear where the items are.

A person with dementia needs quality eating and drinking time to live a healthy lifestyle.

Cooking and baking smells are important also because they provide a unique identity for the kitchen and encourage a person with dementia to eat (see Why nutrition is important for people with dementia feature in the Eating well section).

A clear view

Glass jars for tea and coffee and clear-fronted cookers can help make these items easy to identify. Similarly, open or glass-fronted cupboards allow a person with dementia to see foodstuffs or utensils. If all units have solid fronts or fronts that people can't see through, labelling them can provide simple but effective clues to contents. Open shelving is an alternative used in many kitchens. These can be fitted with rails and blunt-ended hooks to hang utensils. A fridge with a glass door entices the person with dementia to eat what is in there. This open, visible approach also makes it easier for care staff to glance in the kitchen and get an idea about whether the person is eating well.

Labelling and plain surfaces

Label hot and cold water functions on taps clearly, whether the taps are a traditional style (separate hot and cold taps) or mixer variety (both through one tap). Ideally, floor coverings should be plain (without a pattern) and non-slip. Shiny surfaces on floors or table tops can cause confusion by producing glare and shadows. Mats and tablecloths may help overcome these difficulties.

Issues to consider

It is important to ensure that everything a person is likely to need is in reach and is easy to use. For example, the cooker: can the person still operate it? Could controls be labelled to allow the person to cook? Could assistive technology – such as a temperature extreme monitor that detects very hot or cold temperatures in a room – help? Should cooking only take place when someone else is in the kitchen? Simple reminder notes can help a person with dementia find their way around the kitchen.

Dining areas

A person with dementia needs quality eating and drinking time to live a healthy lifestyle. Creating an attractive eating environment can greatly improve their dining experience (see the The eating environment feature in the Eating well section).

Table settings

Simply the way in which you set a table can improve the appetite of someone with dementia. Use contrasting colours for cutlery, crockery, tablecloths and plates. Heavier plates with a lip around the edge are less likely to slip or spill. Ceramic or porcelain mugs, preferably with large handles, make drinking more pleasurable. Plastic is best kept for picnics or cups of tea in the garden.

Furniture

You can make a dining area easily recognisable by features such as a dining table, upright chairs, a dresser and visible sideboard storage for cutlery and crockery. Generally, furniture should be traditional and recognisable in style, rather than having more modern or unusual designs. There should be clear leg space under tables to make them easy to use. Place chairs well apart to enable people to eat freely and without obstacles. Tables with rounded edges and corners can help to reduce injury through accidental collisions.

Table lay-outs

In care homes, arrange the tables in such a way that you encourage interaction among residents and staff. Screens can be useful to allow discreet assisted feeding and to preserve residents' dignity with extra privacy. Having the dining room near the kitchen allows appetising smells to waft through to stimulate appetite.

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