A flooring specialist discusses the unique flooring needs of those who are partially sighted or suffer from dementia.

With more than 50 years’ experience in the local and international flooring industry, Denver Coleman, Chairman of Polyflor SA, answers questions posed by installers, architects and readers. In this issue, he addresses the unique and specialised design needs of those who are partially sighted or suffer from dementia. When designing for the elderly, several factors need to be taken into consideration in order to ensure that the flooring is correctly and efficiently specified.

“I am designing a home for the aged that will offer care to patients who are no longer able to live alone. Please could you recommend what flooring solution would be best suitable with regard to safety, easy maintenance and aesthetics?” Simone Quinlan, Gordon’s Bay

When designing a living space for the elderly, you need to take into account the common challenges that are faced by people in this later stage of life. Research shows many will suffer varying degrees of sight loss, dementia, as well as general frailty. Your flooring selection and design should therefore cater to these needs, but also be comfortable for those who are not elderly, such as visitors and staff.

With regard to the flooring selected, it is important to consider the following:

Firstly, and most importantly, slip risks. Always consider flooring with proven sustainable slip resistance for high-risk areas such as bathrooms, ramps and staircases. Sustainable slip resistance is measured by a pendulum test and applies to wet conditions. These products are manufactured with imbedded aggregate to create slip resistance and can be used in general wet areas. One needs to look for a rating of P36+. Do not be misled by the dry slip rating of the flooring product under consideration.

Specialised products are available for use in showers which, if used with a vinyl drain or shower channel, can create a walk-in shower area that does not require stepping over a frame. In this way trip factors are reduced and disabled and wheelchair accessibility is easy. On a staircase, the highest slip risk is the stair edge, and a safety stair nosing that offers grip, the same as the sheet safety floor, can create a safer staircase.

Colour definitely has an effect on the environment, both from a visual as well as a physiological and mood perspective, and much research has been done on this. We all have different colour associations, but the following general guidelines can be applied to create different feels for different areas: Blues are calming (although the darker shades can be depressing). Greens are also soothing (although brighter shades can be lively and darker shades stimulating). Yellow is associated with joy and stimulates the brain. Red is exciting and energising, but can also be an aggressive colour. Pink is romantic and cosy, and purple is a sensual and rich colour. White is seen as a pure, fresh and innocent colour, but can also be viewed as stark and boring. Black can be stylish and modern, whilst grey is classic and steadfast.  Note that both these latter colours can also be viewed as depressing.

Aside from the physiological and emotional effects of colour, extensive research has also been done into how colours and patterns are perceived by patients with impaired sight or dementia. It is vital to take into account that busy patterns can cause confusion or even appear threatening as well as making it difficult to see anything dropped on the floor.

There has been a great deal of research into LRVs (light reflectance values) of colours and how to create the most effective contrasts without creating what could be perceived as an obstacle. When designing a pattern on a floor that is all one level, the LRV difference between the two colours should not be more than 15 LRV points. If there is a level change, you should make sure the LRVs differ by 15-20 points. Staircases should be clearly defined by a contrasting colour in the stair nosing’s, with an LRV differentiation of 60 points.

LRV values for flooring colours can be obtained from the manufacturers and will help you find the right solution to creating a user-friendly and safe environment for your project.