Why Do People with Alzheimer’s Respond to the Color Red?

Alzheimer’s disease destroys memory. It also causes visual-cognitive deficiencies, which explains some of the behavioral issues observed by caretakers every day.

We can thank research, often called the “red plate study,” conducted by the Vision & Cognition Lab of the Center for Clinical Biopsychology at Boston University for the breakthrough realization that people with Alzheimer’s not only suffer from memory loss, they also lose the ability to process visual data, such as contrast and depth perception.

For example, people with Alzheimer’s can’t easily see food, such as white rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes, if served on white plates, so the food isn’t eaten, which is a problem caretakers often complain about – getting their loved ones to eat enough food. The researchers found that by using red plates instead of white ones, the Alzheimer’s patients they tested “consumed 25 percent more food than those eating from white plates.” That’s because they could see their food.

It is not so much the color red that works well with Alzheimer’s patients. It’s any visual aid that can help minimize visual challenges. Better lighting can make it easier for loved ones to see around them. Avoiding furniture or carpeting with floral patterns can help minimize confusion. Using contrasting colors, such as painting the bathroom a dark shade to make it easier to see white fixtures; or using red plates instead of white ones to see food, are simple ways to improve quality of life for your loved one with Alzheimer’s.

By being more perceptive to the visual-cognitive challenges your loved one is experiencing, you can better cope with behavioral issues that may come up. Simple changes, like switching from white plates to red ones can make a positive difference in your loved one’s world.