IKEA Hacks... For People Living With Dementia
I upgraded my phone a few weeks ago. In going from an iPhone 6S to an iPhone 12 (mini, blue for those wondering), I now have access to wireless charging. I saw an IKEA hack many years ago where someone added a wireless charging pad into their bedside table. In my quest to find that exact hack (which I still haven’t done or really even contemplated, mind you), I found something interesting: an article from IKEAHackers.net called A Catalog Packed With Hacks for Dementia-Friendly Homes.1
IKEA hacks for people living with dementia?
Given my grandmother lives with dementia, and also because I have a frustrated wannabe occupational therapist living somewhere inside of me, my interest was doubly piqued! The article features a handful of different IKEA hacks that address different needs: mobility and safety by hacking an IKEA classic, the POÄNG armchair to be sturdier, with higher arms and more upright. It even adds a storage pocket to the back for essential items, a practical adult-friendly fidget board with locks, keys, and latches for maintaining fine motor coordination and providing soothing movement, and a seating alcove for some seclusion and visible storage.1
These were just the items mentioned in the article, and I got the appeal already. It was with this delightful sampler from the article that I dug into the full Hack Care website.
A catalog of dementia-friendly IKEA home hacks
First: this thing is BEAUTIFUL. It literally has the same feel as an IKEA catalog, just maybe with less elaborate and less overwhelming rooms. Second, I had the best experience viewing Hack Care’s catalogue on my iPad. It runs on ISSU and you can download a PDF. If you really want the full IKEA catalog experience, get it printed on glossy and sit back and enjoy!
For the rest of us, grab your device of choice and let’s dive in! As you peruse, keep an eye out for the cute characters Albert and Lucy (modeled after that guy on the IKEA instructions who phones IKEA if he needs help so he doesn’t break his assembly! You know. This guy.)
Non-hack hacks and practical advice
I was sort of surprised at first that not everything in the Hack Cares catalog is a hack. Some things are simply reasonably priced IKEA pieces that can be used in different ways to support the care of someone with dementia. For instance, on page 29, a bright three-tiered RÅSKOG storage trolley is used to keep the essentials nearby - some iced tea, a mug, tissues, and important papers. On page 108, that same trolley is used as a memory corner to keep important keepsakes at hand, including photos, notes, and other mementos important to the person. A normal $19* BILLIE bookcase (you know the BILLIE bookcase!) is used nearby to store important framed photos in easy reach.
Page 109 gives advice on how to place that POÄNG chair so young children can play around it and create new memories in a familiar and safe space; page 112 gives tips for creating space for the caregiver—especially if the caregiver is a spouse living in the home.2
The catalog offers some practical advice, too. Page 127 shares tips about continuing traditional mealtime rituals to re-spark connections in the mind, as well as the advice on the page prior that providing color contrast between plate, table, and needed items (pictured as a bold red on a bright blue cloth with yellow napkins). This helps items "pop" and be more visible to the person with dementia, which I think would apply whether or not they experience any vision issues or not! Heck, page 133 even shouts out meal-kit delivery services as being potentially engaging and helpful for the pre-packaged ingredients and easy-to-follow recipes!2
Let’s get on with the hacks
Okay, let’s get to some more hacks, I know that’s what you’re here for.
The catalog clearly takes a holistic view to dementia, and that includes hacks for different stages a person will experience.
In a section called "Wardrobe Autonomy" beginning on page 156, a hack of attaching a regular hanger and a pants hanger together to pre-pair outfits in the closet, allowing the person to choose an outfit more easily with as much independence as possible.2 One suggestion I’d add to this is to include a small see-through mesh bag to the hanger that could include socks, underwear, and even jewelry to go along with each outfit!
"Independence in the Bathroom"
The next section, "Independence in the Bathroom," starting on page 158, again makes use of high contrast surfaces for safety - a red shower chair, red grab bar, and red-topped wall mounted soap and shampoo dispensers help ensure the important things not just available, but easy to see! Okay, maybe less a hack, but some of those items come from IKEA and have been repurposed—the plastic chair to a shower chair, for instance!
The rest of the home
How about all over the home? We’ve already talked about the POÄNG hack, but the Living Table hack makes a few appearances throughout the catalog as well, in addition to secluded “nook” spaces for both the person being cared for and the caregiver. The Living Table (starting on page 80) is estimated at $250 and combines several different IKEA pieces (tabletop, leg with castors, hooks and rails, etc.) is also featured throughout the catalog.
All the Hack Care instructions can be found here.
IKEA Hacks: for all of us
Yes, IKEA hacks often involve things that may scream "ridiculous younger people"—I mean, that’s also kinda the vibe you get from the word "hacks," isn’t it? But I can see how even some of the hacks from Hack Care specifically could serve important purposes for many of us—not just people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, but other seniors or people with mobility challenges, or heck, anybody who just needs to make a PLACE for their STUFF so they know where it is. *raises hand*
The biggest benefit I see to something like Hack Care though? Because people of all ages are interested in and using these kinds of hacks, it enables the creation of adaptive pieces that don’t necessarily have to look and feel like adaptive pieces. After all: home, whether it’s a house, an apartment, or a care facility, doesn’t need to feel metallic or have terrible color schemes like the palette used in hospitals: they should still feel like home. And I think things like Hack Care get us even just a little closer.
HackCare.org was created by the Lein Foundation in Singapore, with support from Lekker Architects and Lanzavechia + Wai Design Studio. Be sure to check it out!
Hacks don’t have to be furniture, just repurposing to make things easier! Have you created any "hacks" that have been helpful for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease? What was it and how was that experience? I can’t wait to hear about what you’ve done!
*I hypothesize the prices stated above are Singapore dollars. Your IKEA currency may vary.
Do you have in-home professional care?