NHS hospitals go back to the future for dementia care

NHS hospitals are going back to the future to help patients with dementia by decorating their wards, rooms and corridors in 1940s and 1950s style – creating a calming, familiar environment which can help jog memories, reduce anxiety and distress.

Hospitals across the country have revamped their dementia ward decor, with innovations ranging from a ‘memories pub’ to 1950s style ‘reminiscence rooms’ and even a cinema booth where patients can watch old films.

Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia and older people’s mental health for NHS England and NHS Improvement said: “Hospital can be a frightening place for many people but can prove a bigger challenge for people with dementia who might feel more confused and agitated in an unfamiliar environment. Having a dementia-friendly place to stay may help these patients adjust better to their surroundings, lessen the likelihood of falls and reduce their reliance on medicine.”

“With the NHS diagnosing a record number of older people with dementia this year, it’s more important than ever that patients get the right support and care – as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan – and these hospitals are making simple but hugely effective adjustments which can have enormous benefits to patients.”

For some patients with dementia, shiny floors might appear wet; dark patterns on the floor could look like holes; and handrails or toilet seats may be hard to identify if they are the same colour as background walls – which is why many hospitals are ensuring proper contrast between walls and flooring along with colour coding in patient bays and toilets.

Emma Bould, Programme Partnership Manager at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “We know that staying in hospital can be quite a stressful experience, especially for a person with dementia who may be more easily disorientated or confused. By making dementia-friendly adaptions to a hospital setting and creating familiar environments from the past, hospitals can be transformed into spaces that will give people with dementia a sense of independence, reduce anxiety and improve both mental and physical health.”

“There are now 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, and the numbers are continuing to rise. We welcome these steps to ensure dementia is a key priority for NHS England and would encourage more hospitals to consider how they can best support people with dementia to relax, recover and engage with the world around them by creating a more dementia-friendly environment.”

With support from local charities and staff bringing in donations, hospitals like Airedale Hospital in West Yorkshire are going the extra mile to provide a stimulating environment for patients with dementia.

In Ward six, patients can relax in a ‘butterfly tea room’ complete with shop front wall mural and vintage memorabilia including a red telephone box.

These items from bygone eras can give patients conversational cues and help them talk about the memories they still retain.

The hospital’s senior ward sister Katie Widdop says patients have reaped the benefits from the tea room.

She said: “What we’ve found is that if patients are engaged in meaningful activity and given mental stimulation in hospital, then not only may they sleep better, but they can be less agitated, are less likely to get up in the night and less likely to fall.”

“It’s all part of our work to provide the best possible one to one care and experience for patients in hospital with dementia.”