Perceptual Challenges & Flooring Patterns

Dementia significantly changes how a person interacts with their living space, especially flooring. Although each person will respond differently, perceptual changes heighten fall risk when persons with dementia walk on patterned flooring. Consider these following examples:

Living room patterned carpet. Charles started walking more tentatively on his living room oriental carpet. The multi-colored patterns were now perceived as “things that fell on the carpet”. Sometimes they were “cut up pieces of paper” that needed to be picked up and, at other times, they were obstacles that needed to be walked around. Charles had a stumbling gait to begin with, and walking with distractions or bending over to pick up items that didn’t exist just heightened his fall risk. And he also became more agitated. Replacing the patterned carpet with a dementia-friendly plain colored carpet solved the problem. It gave Charles back his ability to walk with greater physical and psychology ease. (An alternative was to leave the wooden floors bare.)

Kitchen checkerboard floor. Roy had to replace the black and white checkerboard kitchen flooring as his wife Tracy was stepping over the black squares, which she thought were holes in the floor. Roy said, “It was shocking at first, but I finally realized that trying to convince her they weren’t holes was useless. Her brain was just getting a different message, I guess. She really believed she would fall into a hole if she stepped on the black tile.”


Bathtub decals. No matter how decorative yellow baby chick bath decals may seem, people with dementia may not be able to tell what is real and what is a representation. Can you imagine stepping into a bathtub with chick decals and believing that there really were baby chicks in it? That you might actually step on one of them? For a dementia friendly bathing space, it’s best to use plain colored bath mats or plain bath strips.


As people with dementia are at a heighted risk for falls, do everything you can to make walking safer for them. The good news is that you can replace flooring that has a negative effect on your loved one’s mobility. Hopefully, you’ll benefit too (less stress) if your loved one’s safety and well-being is improved.

Giving good dementia care is really is all about getting into and understanding their world, isn’t it?

I'm an interior designer, gerontologist, author, blogger, and most importantly, a former caregiver to my mother, Arlene, who had Alzheimer's disease.
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7 Responses to Perceptual Challenges & Flooring Patterns

  1. Lisa Dunn says:

    As a senior real estate specialist it’s my job to help seniors move out of their homes, but sometimes, my job is to act as a resource to help them stay, successfully, in their homes just a little while longer. Thank you for the effort you’ve put into your website and blog. I recommend you!

  2. Ash K says:

    Very interesting to hear this. We noticed the same with my grandmother who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. It was one of the first symptoms and also included being unable to distinguish the steepness of steps that were patterned and the number of them too.

  3. Vivian says:

    I just bought Butterfly decals for my mom’s shower and she wouldn’t use the shower? I asked her why and she said that she didn’t want to disturb the butterflies. My heart melted…and then I removed them & asked if I could put down a rubber mat for her to prevent falls and she agreed. (I think “including” them in the decision making is helpful.)

  4. Robbie says:

    After my wife’s stroke, we had to replace our checkerboard kitchen floor. She had been trying to only walk on the 12″ white tiles, not the black. That all changed when we got a solid floor color.

  5. Shirley says:

    I had rubber duck decals in the bathtub and for awhile my husband didn’t even notice them. Then one day, he refused to get into the tub as he thought he was stepping on yellow chicks!!! No amount of explaining to him worked. He really thought they were alive. Now we just use a plain colored bathmat.

  6. Tania says:

    This is amazing to me! I never thought that carpet/linoleum/decals could be a source of agitation/confusion for our loved ones. There is so much to learn about Dementia/Aging and how to make it the “best we can” for those in need of that extra TLC.

  7. Nick says:

    We have cut pile “velvet” like wall to wall carpeting in my mother’s room and it tends to leave footprint impressions in the carpet. After reading this blog, I wonder if this is the reason that she is always vacuuming the carpet. It has become almost an obsession with her. Right now, she is strong enough to vacuum, but my wife and I were curious why she was vacuuming her bedroom carpet so much. Maybe it is her dementia – perceptions……As this behavior is not hurting anyone we will just let her continue but it is helpful understanding some of the unusual behaviors. Thank you.

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