6 Tips To Use Visual Cues For Persons With Dementia

How can occupational therapy practitioners use labels to help our clients with dementia thrive in their environments?

Well let's back up... this post all started with this graphic I shared on Instagram.


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A post shared by Mandy {Seniors Flourish} (@seniorsflourish) on

I created these graphics so I would have these visuals ready to print and go in a pinch and wanted to share how I used them in practice with clients that have dementia. Because there were so many questions about the dresser visuals, I thought I'd go into how this works with our clients that have dementia and share how you can print your own off here.

These pdf printables and topic are also available as an Education Video in the Learning Lab membership.

Let's first look at what concretization is. It is a "spontaneous form of compensation, concrete details or objects such as photographs could assist participants in reasoning about abstract matters and general coherence" (2) and is most effective for patients with mild - moderate dementia.

I use pictures and visual cues to not only help the patient "find" what they are looking for, but also help them participate in meaningful activities more independently, such as putting dishes away from the dishwasher or organizing clothes in their drawers.

What I think is most important, is to complete a thorough cognitive evaluation to make sure you have a good understanding of what their level of cognition is. This gives you the information you need to determine what type of visual cue (or any type of cue for that matter) is best (picture, words, picture and words together, etc)

6 tips for using visual cues

Tips for how to use visual cues for our clients that have dementia and access the dresser labels pdf FREE | Seniorsflourish.com #occupationaltherapy #OTtreatmentideas #HomehealthOT #SNFOT #OT

Use pictures and/or labels

This makes sure the patient can identify and/or recognize the items that you are labeling and use the names of items that the client uses.

Use the term "skillet" instead of "frying pan" on the visual if that is the typical term used

The Learning Lab membership also includes visual print offs for kitchen labels.

In earlier stages of dementia, the client will be able to read and many times both the picture and the word is helpful, but as the disease progresses, this may be more frustrating or difficult to do, so typically I will remove the word from beneath the picture to make it easier for them and a more direct reference.

Create a color contrast

Print on high contrast paper if your patient has visual perceptual issues or low vision. Ask the patient what color they see best. I really like using a chartruse/lime green color and have had good results with it, but everyone is different, so go through the different colors with them and let them identify which is easiest to see.

Find the right height to place the signage

You want to make sure the visual is in their line of sight and obvious. They are not going to be looking for the sign, so putting it too high or low will not be effective. Also be sure to take into consideration if they are going to be sitting in a wheelchair or standing.

Give directions to items if it is not in their line of sight

Wayfinding is enhanced through signage, but sometimes, it cannot be placed directly on the object. Use of verbal directions ("bathroom down the hall") may be appropriate for clients with low level dementia, but arrows or pictures might be better.

If the bathroom that is down the hallway, put a toilet sign on the wall pointing in the direction of the bathroom and then place another picture of a toilet on the door of the actual bathroom.

Link colors to rooms

Keep all colors in each room one color for consistency. If the bathroom has pink tile, make the labels pink to help them make the connection.


blue: bath room (water)

green: outdoors (grass)

orange: kitchen (burners on stove)

If laminating, use matte laminating paper

This is through my own trial and error. I originally thought that because I was putting visuals in the kitchen, they would get dirty from cooking on the stove, opening and closing drawers, etc. BUT, I also did not take into consideration that most laminating paper is high gloss, which makes it extremely hard to see for some patients with dementia.

These are not an end all, be all solution. Many clients will eventually get to the point that they cannot recognize objects or read, BUT it is really effective for the appropriate client!

Print off your FREE Clothing Label PDFs here.

Share below how you have used labels and visuals to help your clients with dementia be more successful in their environment.

Evidence Based Resources:

(1) Long-term care for people with dementia: environmental design guidelines

(2) Responses of persons with dementia to challenges in daily activities: A synthesis of findings from empir-ical studies. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58, 435–445.

(3) Using external memory aids to increase room finding by older adults with dementia

Comments 10

  1. Which Allen Cognitive Level do you think this would be most appropriate for? I have a patient who is an ACL 4.4 and I am on the fence on if she would benefit from visual cues at this stage.

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      They definitely could at 4.4. Do keep in mind that cognition fluctuates (ours too!) and it does not mean it is not foolproof, but it also does not mean that it cannot be beneficial at that stage.

  2. My father is diagnosed with Dementia, and that is why he has decided to start looking for a memory care service. Thank you for sharing here as well the importance of using visuals so it will be easier for him to remember things. I also agree with you that it would be best to ask my dad about the color he sees best.

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  3. How do you get a pt to engage in therapy when they have Demintia? I have a pt who only wants to sit in their wheelchair and gaze at things. Please Help!

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      Hi Christina
      I would start with a good assessment of the patient’s cognitive level. This will help you be able to serve your pt the best! After you know what their abilities are (and team up with their care partners), you can then create goals and interventions that will them them thrive at their optimal level.

  4. Might also be helpful so the staff puts things back in the same place every time. My mom would go to a dresser to get her sweaters and get frustrated because the staff had put them all on hangers in the closet. Something she’d never done in her lifetime

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      Isn’t that the truth? Those routines and habits are essential to success and independence for people that have dementia. Thanks for the great reminder Karen!

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