JDC Spring-2001 v3 - A Pattern Language for Designing Interiors for Alzheimer's Patients

PATTERN 9 - Contrast Stands Out

Contrasting colors should be used in designing the physical environment to help dementia patients make distinctions between different planes. It enhances the visual function of the residents whose mental acuity and vision impairments may interpret colors, outlines, shapes, and planes differently.


As people grow old they view their surroundings with a yellowish brown tint (Brawley, 1992). Hence the distinction between similar tones and shades of colors when placed in similar light or on similar textures is lost (Hiatt, 1979). Colors should be thought in terms of relationships to establish a contrast between light and dark (Ibid). Repetition and lack of variations in tonal value do not serve the purpose. The two factors primarily responsible for impeding vision in older people and in their performance of daily activities are the presence of glare and encountering the difficulty of seeing edges of pale colored objects (Pastalan and Cooper). Having the edge of any light furniture or raised surfaces in a contrasting color makes it easily visible. Residents would best be able to differentiate a wall from a floor if one was a lighter color and the other a dark contrasting color. Dark upholstery on light carpets and dark doors with light colored adjacent walls would be some examples (Brawley, 1995). A sharp contrast or pattern of the floor covering could be seen as a hole or a step due to impaired depth perception hampering the movement of the patient (Brawley, 1992). It also induces fear of falling because of the difference of levels seen by the patient. Hence a contrasting border for the carpet is not a good idea and should be avoided.

Careful use of color employing contrast and glare-free surfaces helps mitigate the rates of accidents caused by falling. It assists the resident by playing a prosthetic function, making mobility and performance of everyday functions and chores easier.