Do You See What I See? – Small Changes that Make A Big Difference in the Kitchen for Person Living with Dementia
by Deirdre Thornton,
Mmmmm, the kitchen. A hub in most homes to be sure. A room where all our senses can be stimulated. What sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels do you think of coming from the kitchen in your home?
Most would agree that the kitchen is commonly one of the most frequented rooms in a home and serves numerous task-oriented functions: a place for food storage, meal preparation, baking, cooking, and cleaning. It is also a social space where family members meet and talk, visitors mingle, and prized artwork is hung on the fridge. At any given time, there is a lot of sensory data vying for our attention when we are in the kitchen.
In this issue of Positive Approach® to Care’s Online Dementia Journal, we are learning that structural and chemical changes in the occipital lobe (where processing of visual data takes place) occur commonly, even in early stages of many types of dementia.
For a Person Living with Dementia (PLwD), changes in visual processing skill and speed can lead to challenges navigating a once familiar kitchen space and even provide the potential for serious injury given the safety sensitive nature of kitchen appliances.
If you are a care partner for a PLwD in their home, you might have noticed that kitchen utensils have been misplaced, pantry items are scarce or in higher quantity than usual, or that the level of cleanliness has deteriorated (e.g. more dirty dishes in the sink, expired food in the fridge). You might have found yourself wondering, why this is happening? Visual changes can profoundly affect a person’s experience when interacting with their environment, even a familiar one such as the kitchen.
At PAC, when talking about supportive environments, we often reference the four F’s: friendly, familiar, functional, and forgiving. Here are some ideas to support a PLwD in a kitchen environment to assist with adapting to visual changes.
Keep general decor in the preferred colors and style of the PLwD while using solid, contrasting colors of dishware, towels, and walls so that they are easily distinguished from cabinets, countertops, and appliances
Increase lighting in areas (e.g. using LED light strips) under cabinetry and inside cabinets to create inviting and bright spaces to locate kitchen items
Apply white labels with bold lettering to identify the location of various dishware, cookware, pantry, and refrigerated items
Ensure all food items are clearly labeled and food storage containers can be marked with contents and a date
Consider removing some kitchen cabinet doors for open-concept shelving with kitchen items clearly visible
Re-locate dishes, pots and pans, flatware, and other frequently used kitchen items between eye-level and waist height to reduce the necessity for scanning
Reduce visual kitchen clutter by making available only essential kitchen items, including only a couple of sets of dishware and flatware
Use hooks to hang cooking utensils on the wall in plain view
Remove kitchen floor mats to prevent falls, they may be perceived as a change in floor level, a hole in the ground, or could simply pose a tripping hazard
Ensure cords on small appliances are not frayed and in good working order
Create laminated cards of basic instructions for simple tasks such as making a pot of coffee, cooking oatmeal, or heating a can of soup
Above all, keep the kitchen environment a place where relationships and connections can continue to form, by spending time together creating sensory experiences.