Emily Mongan

Moving is always exciting to me. This isn’t because I enjoy the stressful process of apartment hunting and packing my life away into boxes like a real-life game of Tetris, because, let’s face it, I don’t.

But once all the planning, paperwork and back-and-forth trips in a car so packed you can’t see out the back window are done, my favorite part of moving begins: unpacking and decorating.

For my latest move into my first roommate-free apartment, I wanted every detail of the furniture and decorations to be perfect. I scoped out room plans on Pinterest, and drew out little diagrams of how I wanted to cram all of my furniture into my tiny new space. I came up with a color scheme and ran around to different stores until I found pillows, throws and even a tea kettle that corresponded to my ideal shades of blue, green and yellow.

The result? An apartment that I’m happy to come home to every day. It fits my needs and personality well.

It’s not a scientific breakthrough that allowing people to choose what their living environment looks like will probably make them happier, at home and in general. But that freedom can be difficult to find for someone who lives in a long-term care facility, especially if that person has dementia and can’t always effectively communicate his or her opinions.

Researchers at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands recently turned to mood boards, collage-like collections of photos and color swatches, to study how they can help older adults with dementia communicate their housing needs. Participants were given blank boards along with old magazines, fabric swatches and carpet samples and told to use whatever materials they wanted to express their housing wishes.

The resulting mood boards showed the residents had definite preferences about their housing environment that they hadn’t been able to effectively communicate before. All of the study participants indicated they preferred lighter colors to be used for the floors and walls, saying the lighter hues had a positive impact on their mood.

They also responded that having personal furniture items in their rooms, along with photos of family, holiday decorations and plants would give them an added sense of security.

More than just giving the residents a way to show caregivers what their ideal dwellings would look like, researchers found working on the mood boards and engaging in a creative activity helped the residents feel less depressed and isolated, and gave them a greater sense of having a choice. All of the benefits are especially crucial for people with dementia, who may feel like they’re becoming shut off from others and unable to make decisions for themselves, researchers said.

A mood board activity might not lead to huge design changes in your facility, but it could help make residents — especially those with dementia — feel like they have more of a say in their surroundings. And for people new to a long-term care setting, giving them a way to show what colors, furnishings and decorations they prefer might help ease that transition, and turn an uncertain situation into a happy home.

Emily Mongan is Staff Writer at McKnight’s. Follow her @emmongan.