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Environmental Triggers and Dementia

By Susan Fisher and Tammy Adams

Living with dementia can present many challenges, not only for the person living with the disease but also for their caregivers, loved ones and friends.

Responsive behaviours are defined as, an individual's reactions, in response to their environment, ie: agitation, wandering, etc. These can be minimized or avoided, if we can decipher what things in their environment might be bothering them. Understanding and mitigating these triggers is essential to providing a supportive and comfortable environment for individuals living with dementia.

One of the most common environmental triggers, for someone living with dementia, is sensory overload. Loud noises, bright lights, and crowded spaces can overwhelm their senses, leading to agitation and confusion. We can help, by creating a calm and quiet atmosphere, minimizing background noise, and ensuring adequate lighting is not too harsh. Constant environmental noise from TVs, radios, background conversations, and other noise can be overwhelming. With dementia, the part of the brain used to filter sensory information is not working effectively, so they have difficulty filtering out the irrelevant background noise.

Changes in their environment can be disorienting for those living with dementia. Rearranging furniture or moving to a new location can cause distress and increase confusion. Maintaining consistency, as much as possible, can provide a sense of security and stability. Being in unfamiliar environments like hospitals, going on vacation, or moving to a new home can cause them a great deal of stress.

Clutter and excessive stimuli can be overwhelming for someone living with dementia. Busy social gatherings or unfamiliar faces can be intimidating and, sometimes, scary for them. We can help them, by creating opportunities for meaningful social engagement, while also respecting the individual’s need for quiet and solitude, when necessary. Walls or furniture with complex patterns or designs can be overwhelming and confusing, as their brains do not process the same visual information the same way others do.

Temperature and lighting can also impact how someone living with dementia feels and reacts. Maintaining a comfortable room temperature and ensuring adequate natural light, during the day, can promote better sleep patterns and mood regulation. Shadows and reflections can be confusing, for someone living with dementia, and oftentimes will lead to misinterpretation of their surroundings (ie: as when seeing themselves in the mirror, or shadows on the floor).

Lack of clear visual cues or signage can make it very difficult, for those living with dementia, to navigate their surroundings and locate important areas (ie: poorly marked restrooms) and cause confusion, frustration, and wandering. To help with this, DementiAbility has some wonderful examples of well-marked signage on their website (

Recognizing and addressing environmental triggers is crucial for enhancing the quality of life for those living with dementia. By creating a supportive and dementia-friendly environment, we can help minimize stress and confusion, allowing our loved ones to live more comfortably and happy, despite the challenges of their disease.

Tammy and Susan run Silver Lights Senior Services, a family-owned and operated seniors’ homecare company, serving the City of Kawartha Lakes, Courtice, Bowmanville, Oshawa, Whitby, Port Perry and Uxbridge. Adult Day Program for Dementia is located in Lindsay, ON. Find them on Facebook and Instagram or visit their website, at To book services, call Tammy, at 705 308 1940, or to register for the Day Program, call Susan, at 705 324 2911.

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