Dementia and clutter not necessarily bad mix

Dementia: Normal clutter doesn't make life harder

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New research shows decluttering a home doesn't make living at home easier for people with dementia; adapting their environment can.


Think decluttering a home will help a person with dementia cope with everyday life? Perhaps it's time to think again.

New research from the University of East Anglia surprisingly found that participants with moderate dementia performed better when surrounded by their usual clutter.

The study looked at whether people with dementia were better able to carry out tasks surrounded by their usual clutter or in a clutter-free environment.

Participants were grouped into those with mild, moderate and severe dementia, and were asked to carry out daily tasks including making a cup of tea and making a simple meal, both in their own home and at the university's specially designed research bungalow.

"We were surprised to find that overall, people with moderate dementia in particular performed daily tasks better at home, even though their homes were significantly more cluttered than our research bungalow," said occupational therapist Julieta Camino.

"And it didn't seem to make any difference how cluttered the participant's home was.

"The only factor that contributed to how well they could carry out tasks at home was their level of cognition - with those with severe dementia encountering the same difficulties to perform the tasks at home and in the research bungalow."

Professor Eneida Mioshi from the university's School of Health Sciences, said the majority of people with dementia lived in their own home and generally wanted to remain there for as long as possible.

"So it's really important to know how people with dementia can be best supported at home," she said.

"One possible route would be by adapting the physical environment to best suit their needs.

"As dementia progresses, people gradually lose their ability to carry out daily tasks due to changes in their cognitive perceptual and physical abilities. Participation in daily tasks could then be improved by adapting the person's environment."

The research - A new and tidier setting: how does environmental clutter affect people with dementia's ability to perform activities of daily living? - is published in the journal Alzheimer Disease and Associated Disorders.