“Gee, Mom, that’s a pretty red blouse. Is it new?” I asked my mother, whose taste in clothing usually tended toward more subdued colors. “Yes,” she replied, “I bought it to wear when I visit your father.” At the time my dad, an Alzheimer’s patient, was living in a wonderful secure dementia unit in an area skilled nursing facility. She went on, “I read an article that said that people with Alzheimer’s are attracted to the color red. I remembered that during our last visit, he was looking out the window and commented specifically about the red car in the parking lot. I thought that this might be a way to help him focus on me.” We were fortunate that, despite his memory loss and other symptoms, my father still knew us and could communicate on a basic level.
In checking on the color issue further, I found our more about how Alzheimer’s Disease changes visual perception. The changes are not ophthalmologic, but are due to changes in the brain and the way the brain interprets visual information. Color perception and seeing contrast appear to be affected. Colors in the blue-violet spectrum are the hardest to differentiate, so that red, conversely, is the easiest to perceive. Depth perception is also reduced. Research has also show that solid colors are soothing. Patterns in flooring, carpeting and wallpaper can cause confusing or agitation.
Here are some color-based caregiver tips which emphasize color contrast:
• Use red plates on a white placemat. Research has demonstrated that patients with Alzheimer’s ate more when using bright red plates.
• Make the indoors brighter through the use of higher wattage bulbs, more sheer window coverings, well-lit hallways. Turn on indoor lights before dusk arrives.
• Use a brightly colored toilet seat and colorful mats in the bathtub or shower.
• Colored tape can be used to mark doorways, baseboards and steps.
• Use bright collars, even sweaters, on dogs and cats. When brown pets are lying quietly on a brown floor, they can become “invisible” and turn into a trip risk.