Can you imagine a world without colour? It wouldn’t just be drab and dreary. In fact, you would be entering a world that was very unpredictable and extremely frightening.
Additionally, colour can play a huge impact on an individual’s diet and nutrition. To demonstrate this, let us consider the Colour Museum in Bradford: there I saw an advertising leaflet which showed a plate of attractive-looking food in one half, and in the other half a monochrome version of the same plate. Now the peas were grey, the broccoli almost black and the off white potatoes marked with grey patches.
Imagine what that must be like – to perceive food like that day after day?
I invited some friends to dinner after seeing this just to do a little experiment (they never complain, just as long as I don’t make them go in to my laboratory!!).
I boiled some potatoes and separated them into 4 batches, dyeing them red, orange, green and blue with food colouring and then putting them in the oven for a few minutes to toughen the outsides a little and disguise their origin (just for the record, I am not a great chef and don’t cook very often so there’s no point anybody expecting me to cook a meal at any time, ever!).
At dinner, my friends were told that the vegetables had been bought at a range of ethnic shops. The red and orange potatoes were much enjoyed, the green were not all that popular and nobody touched the blue ones.
This may seem logically irrational, but actually it makes immensely good biological sense. We have millions of years of evolutionary experience to help us spot the foods that are good to eat – the ripe red apples for example. Similarly, we are able to spot the bad stuff: the meat that is green in colour, or the potatoes with blue-black patches on the outside. Without colour, those tasks would not be possible and we would have survived less well. It is therefore hardly surprising that we have innate responses to colour, and that these are often difficult to verbalise. Nevertheless, that does not make them any less real or any less important.
In a world where orientation to time and place may be deficient, where immediate memory may be impaired and where visual acuity is likely to be present, colour psychology has a very important role to play in the lives of people living with the everyday challenges of dementia.
It is paramount that we make use of the research and resources available to us when planning the design of both interior living environments and exterior leisure areas for people living in our facilities.
Some fantastic examples of this can be seen throughout a number of care homes.
The book Designing Interiors for people with Dementia is a valuable resource and can be purchased from the Dementia Services Development Centre at the University of Stirling for approximately £15.00 The back cover consists of a piece of yellow Perspex which, when viewed through, will give you a rough indication of what the world looks like for many older people with dementia. Couple this with something like macular degeneration or glaucoma and the experience will change your perception and challenge current belief systems and personal biases.
So, whenever you are in the process of creating specific environments for people living with dementia, consider the impact that colour has not only on their visual system, but also their personality, character and behaviour as a whole. Include colour psychology as part of our holistic approach to care.