Obnoxious Carpet in Dementialand

I’ve been traveling quite a bit for work. When March is said and done, I will have spent almost half of it in a hotel room.

I enjoy traveling, but right now I’m over the hotel deal. Only one of my five most recent hotel stays has offered a free continental breakfast. My last hotel TV couldn’t pick up the signal for CBS (which wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t NCAA Tournament time), and I’m tired of tiny conditioner bottles that don’t have contain enough product to cover my whole head.

My other recurring complaint about hotels is of a totally different sort. It’s about the carpet—typically the carpet in hotel hallways.

Here’s the thing….Your brain has to work to interpret every image you see. If you don’t have dementia, your brain usually does this quite efficiently. If you do have dementia, it’s a different story.

If you live in Dementialand, your brain has to work much harder to interpret the information you gather using your senses, including sight. This is why bold patterned carpet is terrible for people with dementia.

Someone with dementia may not be able to distinguish a patterned carpet as…well…just a patterned carpet. They may be afraid to trip over stripes. They may think shapes are rocks, animals, bushes, babies, you name it… I once knew a gentleman with dementia who refused to walk into his own living room because he thought the bold pattern on the carpet was actually a bunch of dead pigs on the floor. (Not surprisingly, he was a retired famer.) There was a woman who didn’t want to step on a bright patterned carpet because her brain interpreted the image as babies crawling around. Obviously, she didn’t want to step on the babies.

I frequently see people with dementia who are hesitant to walk on surfaces with striking patterns because they are afraid they will fall through or that a different color indicates a raised edge or drop off. When people have this problem in their homes, my best advice is to change the environment. Pull up the carpet or get a throw rug. (I should add that rugs can increase the risk of falls.)

As I travel more, I realize the norm in hotel hallways is to have obnoxiously bright and patterned carpet. Not neutral. Not soft patterns. I think the look they are going for is regal. For the majority of us, I think these carpet patterns are obnoxious and unattractive—but that’s just my personal taste. For the minority (but not small minority) of us with dementia, these carpet patterns create challenges.

I only recently realized how annoying I must be about this hotel carpet deal. Back in November, I attended a conference in Denver with a professor from Southern Illinois University, Julie, who I did not know well. Looking back, I must’ve lamented quite a bit about how dementia-unfriendly the hotel carpet was to poor Julie, whose field of study is not related to dementia in any way. Recently she said she stayed at a hotel with boldly patterned carpet and thought about how much it would bother me. I’m grateful
that Julie and I have somehow become friends despite my obsession with
analyzing hotel carpet and inability to talk about other topics like a normal human being. Sometimes being passionate about your subject matter can make you pretty annoying to hang out with.

Although there is a trend to make society more dementia-friendly due to the number of individuals who are being and will be diagnosed with dementia in the coming years, I can’t pick on hotels. It’d be great if they had something like this in mind when they designed for guests of all ages and abilities, but I know I’m probably being unrealistic to think someone might consider individuals with dementia when choosing a carpet. We have a long way to go. (For now, I continue to rant to my travel colleagues—likely to their annoyance– about this issue, and I once made an awkward attempt to bring up the topic with a hotel manager. I did write an email about six months ago to a major hotel chain and got no response.)

What is more disturbing to me than hotel carpet choices are the carpet choices of facilities that cater specifically to those with dementia. I cannot tell you how many times I have walked into an assisted living facility and been struck by colorfully bold patterned carpet. The reason? When assisted livings were first created, they were intended to have the feel of a luxurious hotel rather than a nursing home. I guess obnoxious carpet equals luxury?

A few years back, a student who graduated from the Gerontology program that I coordinate got a fantastic job managing an assisted living. She wanted me to come see her facility. As soon as I walked in, she rushed up to me.

“I know what you’re gonna say,” she said, “You’re gonna say the carpet sucks.”

It was one of those moments as a professor when you feel a sense of accomplishment because a student actually remembered something you said. And she was right. The carpet did suck. It had boats on it.

You cannot change the dementia brain. What you can change is the environment. When the environment becomes difficult to navigate, or to interpret, we can simplify the environment. Simplifying the environment can start with simplifying the carpet.

Make it a solid or a very soft pattern. A nice neutral is perfect. It should preferably be a different color than the walls. And keep in mind that sometimes people with dementia are hesitant with transitions. For instance, they may stop walking when laminate flooring turns to carpet. Of course, this could be a good or bad thing, depending on the situation.

My office at the university happens to be next to the office of an amazing faculty member in the area of interior design. Before meeting her, I did not realize the importance of designing for individuals with dementia. I now realize that it makes a huge difference in quality of life.

When you can’t change the person, you change the environment to fit the person. And changing the carpet really isn’t all that hard.

5 thoughts on “Obnoxious Carpet in Dementialand

  1. Oh, Elaine, you have hit the carpet tack on the head! In fact, I agree with you: this new carpet trend IS tacky!

    A month ago I stayed at a Courtyard by Marriott that had just been renovated. Hallway (and in-room) carpet was just as you described it. And the only remaining right angles in the room were in the four corners. All the furniture was curved or at an odd angle. It was a nightmare to navigate!

    Liked by 1 person

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