Specific Colors, Artwork May Have Impact on Loved One with Dementia

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The environment where we live, work and relax plays a significant factor in how we interact with the world. I would suggest that the same applies for people who have dementia and that what they see may influence how they feel and behave.

    My interest in this subject was triggered by a recent story in the Wall Street Journal that described how hospitals are displaying public art as a healing process. While not specifically about dementia, the story offers several studies that have identified a relationship between the type of images displayed and the brain’s reaction to pain, stress and anxiety. Therefore, many healthcare institutions are trying to display art that supports a healing environment and encourages a sense of optimism, vitality and energy.

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    This focus on the visual part of the environment also made me start thinking about color. The Department of Health in Victoria, Australia points out that color is a key part of creating an environment that is supportive for a person with dementia. Using specific colors on walls, furnishings and artwork can trigger emotional responses based on culture a person’s background and previous experiences in life. Interestingly when combined with good lighting, the use of color can help people with dementia remain oriented and encourage their involvement with people, activities and their surroundings. However, too many colors can prove to be a distraction.  It’s best, if possible, to let the person who has dementia select the color they want.

    However, if you are not able to get feedback from a loved one, it is important to know that color may trigger specific reactions physically, mentally and emotionally. Do you need an example? Just read the story about the prison that saw a decline in repeat offenses when the walls were painted pink and prisoners were required to wear pink jumpsuits.

    So let’s look at the pros and the cons of specific colors on people, in general:

    • Red can increase stimulation, excitement, warmth and energy. However, it also can lead to defiance, aggression, and strain.  
    • Blue encourages communication, trust, efficiency, reflection, serenity and calmness. However, it also can result in unfriendliness, aloofness and lack of emotion.
    • Yellow promotes optimism, confidence, friendliness and creativity. It also may heighten fears, irrationality, depression, anxiety and suicide.
    • Green can promote harmony, balance, rest, restoration, reassurance, equilibrium and peace. However, this color also can result in boredom, stagnation and blandness.
    • Violet is linked to authenticity, truth, spiritual awareness and quality. This color also can cause people to feel introverted, suppressed and inferior.
    • Orange is stimulating and can create an environment of physical comfort, warmth, security and fun. However, it also can trigger feelings of deprivation, frustration and immaturity.
    • Pink can promote physical tranquility, nurturing and warmth. On the flip side, it can cause a person to feel inhibited, emotionally claustrophobic and physically weak.
    • Grey is psychologically neutral, but it also can damage confidence and lead to depression, hibernation and lack of energy.
    • Black can promote a feeling of security, emotional safety, efficiency and substance. However, it also can make a person feel oppressed, cold, heavy and menaced.
    • White promotes a feeling of purity, cleanliness, simplicity and efficiency, but it can suggest coldness, barriers, and unfriendliness.
    • Brown promotes earthiness, reliability, support and seriousness. However, it can also signal lack of humor and heaviness.

    Therefore, I’d encourage you to think carefully how you use color in places where a loved one with dementia will be living. For instance, you may not want to have a red bedroom since it could trigger stimulation and aggression. Try to do activities in places where there’s a lot of yellow or orange. If the loved one is having aggressive tendencies, you may want to have a place where they can sit that has blues and pinks. Do a few experiments and you can create an environment that works for your loved one.
    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
    Colour Affects. (ND) . Psychological properties of colours.
    Department of Health, Victoria, Australia. (2014). Dementia-friendly environments: interior design.
    Landro, L. (2014). More hospitals buy into the healing powers of public art. The Wall Street Journal.
    Vires, L. (2006). Texas jail is small, but in the pink. CBS News.

Published On: August 22, 2014