A dementia black mat sits in front of a closed white door. The blog header reads Dementia Mats and the Visual Cliff.
By Matly
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Dementia Mats and the Visual Cliff

The reason black mats are unethical for people with dementia.

The most common colour of mat in our collection is black. That’s because it suits most of our customers’ applications best. It is, however, not the best option for all settings, especially dementia and other medical applications.

Dementia patients have a level of cognitive impairment that negatively impacts their life. Some might experience a mild forgetfulness. Others might be unable to remember their own name.

Black mats are unsuitable for dementia patients because of something called a visual cliff. Visual cliff makes mat colour extremely important, with darker colours causing distress to anyone with reduced cognitive function.


But what is a visual cliff?

In psychology, the visual cliff is an experimental stimulus used to measure depth perception. It involves an optical illusion-like image that looks like a drop or hole. The illusion is caused by colour variations, such as dark colours on light.

See some examples of a visual cliff below:

2 examples of a visual cliff. The light and dark sections of the image creates the illusion of a cliff (or drop).

Findings from studies using the visual cliff are the reason we know depth perception and avoidance of depth is innate. While children under 5 months have no way to fully understand the danger of falling, they instinctively know to avoid the visual cliff.

Animals have a similar instinct. They will steer clear of the visual cliff to avoid the perceived danger of falling. They routinely display more distress and avoidance and less confident exploration compared with ‘flat’ flooring.


Depth perception in adults with cognitive impairment

Where dementia patients tend to have some form of regressed cognition, they too display this trait. Later in life, we learn that the visual cliff is an optical illusion, but information like this is often forgotten as dementia progresses.

The inability to recognise non-danger is problematic because of the effect it has on the person. Research is motivated by the possibility that dementia patients may avoid harmless areas of the floor, preventing them from avoiding real-life dangers, such as fire.

There is also the issue of physical and psychological distress. If adults with dementia are alarmed by a visual cliff, the shock could cause a fall. Likewise, if they are in a constant state of stress because they see a ditch in the corner of their room, they risk developing further health problems.


Solution: light-coloured mats

Consistent, light-coloured flooring can be used to avoid the distress of a visual cliff. According to Designing For Dementia, neutral, earthy colours are best, and making all parts of a room the same colour can prevent elopement (wandering away from a safe space).

Light-coloured matting helps the floor – and room in general – stay consistent. That, in turn, helps dementia patients’ to feel at ease and safe. Research into dementia management has consistently found that calmness allows patients to concentrate and reduces confusion.

Soft surfaces are also important, both for comfort and in the event of a fall. Carpet, plush surfaces and soft foam are all great materials for safe and calm environments.


We stock a range of light-coloured mats that are perfect for easing those with dementia.

  • Coir mats are perfect for dementia patients as they are naturally neutral. We generally recommend coir outside, but they work well inside too. If you are placing coir matting inside, a synthetic fibre might be best as it does not shed and create a mess or slip hazard.
  • Artificial grass is another mat that is naturally light-coloured. All artificial grass is green, so it is a good option for outside areas that people with dementia often use.
  • If red carpets are too dark for the dementia patients in your life, we stock white carpet runners This is easy to clean but light and pleasant to look at.
  • Chair mats are used to protect your floor from rolling chair casters. They make it easier to move around without damaging the carpet or hard floor underneath. Our plastic chair mats are transparent to be as inconspicuous as possible.
  • The PVC Loop Pile Mat with Non Slip Rubberised Backing Grey is another great option. As well as being light coloured, this non slip mat prevents slip and fall accidents while also keeping floors clean.
  • We also offer light-coloured anti fatigue mats. The High Comfort Custom Printed Logo Anti Fatigue Matcan be printed with any colour or design. The unlimited printing capabilities of this mat allows carers to protect dementia patients from fatigue without causing distress.

A transparent chair mat with a chair rolling over it. These transparent mats are great for dementia patients.


Purposeful use of the visual cliff in managing dementia patients

Although dark mats can cause distress to patients with dementia, they are sometimes used to deter them from unsafe areas. Patients that are prone to wander around (known as elopement may be in a confused state and are at risk of serious harm.

The ethical implications of using lesser discomfort to avoid danger is complicated. Some say that the white lie is beneficial for the greater wellbeing of the patient; some say the lie and consequential distress are both unethical.

Many supporters of the method say that it is a greater alternative to continuous medication. Side effects of dementia medication include increased drowsiness and confusion, headaches, muscle soreness, nausea and vomiting.


Other mats for dementia

As well as appropriately-coloured flooring, other types of mat can be used to manage dementia. Some of these can be bought or made at home. Activity mats for dementia patients might consist of games and puzzles to help train the mind.

As with young people whose cognitive ability has not yet developed, adults with more severe dementia benefit from simple sensory stimulation. Sensory mats include different materials to feel and play with and moving parts to fidget with.

As well as stimulation, dementia mats can be used for safety reasons. Alarm mats for dementia patients are triggered by wait or movement and alert caregivers if a dementia patient is wandering from a safe environment.


Flooring for Dementia

If you or someone you love is suffering from dementia, take your flooring choices into account. It is easy to overlook the differences in those with dementia and those without, and something as simple as a black mat on the floor can be extremely distressing.

Choose light colours and a neutral pattern to avoid confusion. Consistency along the floor and the walls can help disguise doors and other hazards without causing fear. Many experts believe this is an ethical alternative to using dark mats to deter dementia patients from eloping.

Hopefully this guide can help you find the best solution for your dementia-friendly flooring. If you need more specific guidance, reach out to the matxperts who are always happy to provide personalised recommendations.

2 years ago