One of the most crucial steps a family can take when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is to make sure their environment is safe.
Most individuals in the earlier stages of the illness are able to continue living at home. By creating a safe space, you’re helping your loved one remain at home as long and as safely as possible.
But part of the challenge of dementia is the effect it has on so many elements of a person’s life. The Alzheimer’s Association provides information on these areas and why they can be detrimental to the home safety of someone living with Alzheimer’s.
Judgment: Individuals may forget how to use typical household appliances, including remembering to turn off an oven or stovetop.
Sense of time and place: Individuals may begin to wander away from the home and forget or not recognize where they are. They may also be unable to make it back home or know who to call for help.
Behavior: A person with Alzheimer’s may become easily confused or forgetful. But they can also become very suspicious, even of close family members or they may become fearful for their own safety.
Physical ability: The changes caused from Alzheimer’s goes beyond memory impairment. For example, balance can become an issue and cause an increased risk of falling.
Senses: The illness can also cause changes to the senses. These can include vision, hearing, sensitivity to temperatures and depth perception.
When providing home care for someone with Alzheimer’s, safety is a priority. As soon as possible after a diagnosis, conduct a walk-through of the home and take the necessary preemptive steps to address concerns. It’s always best to take corrective action before there’s an accident or crisis. The Alzheimer’s Association and the National Institute on Aging offer the following tips:
Begin by inspecting each room, including the garage. Pay special attention to any spaces that have power tools, chemicals or cleaning supplies. These are an increased safety risk to someone with Alzheimer’s, as they may no longer recognize what they are or their dangers.
Carefully review the kitchen, which can be one of the most hazardous rooms in the house. Consider installing a hidden gas valve or circuit breaker for the stove so your loved one is unable to turn it on. You may also want to install appliances that have an automatic shut-off feature or remove the knobs. Other safety tips include removing decorative fruits, sugar or seasonings from the counter.
Check that all safety devices are in good condition. Install or make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and are properly located throughout the home. Replace batteries if needed. You’ll also want to purchase and place fire extinguishers in the kitchen and other rooms where needed.
Install locks on exterior doors so they’re out of sight and reach of your loved one who might otherwise leave the home unnoticed. Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness but wandering and becoming lost can happen at any time. Consider removing or relocating locks in other rooms so no one accidentally becomes locked in.
Make sure the home has adequate lighting at walkways, near doorways, stairways, hallways and bathrooms. This may help not only prevent falling but can also reduce disorientation.
When providing home care for someone with Alzheimer’s, always keep a list of emergency numbers by the phone or in a central place in the home. In case of an emergency, you won’t want to be searching for a telephone number.
Remove, dis-able or lock up any weapons in the home. People with Alzheimer’s can easily misjudge an object. They can also confuse a loved one for an intruder or believe that they or others are in danger.
Keep all poisons locked away, as well as prescription or over-the-counter medication. Look around the house daily to make sure something hasn’t been left out or a door left unlocked.
Speak to neighbors and emergency personnel ahead of time to let them know that your family member has Alzheimer’s. Ask them to let you know if they ever see your loved one out walking alone.
Tripping is a hazard for all older adults. But those living with Alzheimer’s can be at higher risk so make sure to create a clear pathway throughout the home. Pay special attention to electrical cords that may be in the way. Also, consider removing pieces of furniture that require the person to maneuver around, such as a chair or coffee table.
The bathroom is another area of increased risk of injury. Consider installing a walk-in shower if possible. Add grab bars to allow for safe but independent use of the bathroom. Textured stickers can make a tub less slippery but also remove rugs or apply adhesives so they stay in place and don’t cause tripping.
Make sure all steps and outdoor areas are sturdy and textured to help prevent slipping. It’s also helpful to outline the step edges with bright or reflective tape to make them simpler to see. You may want to consider adding a ramp with handrails if that’s easier for your loved one to navigate.
Pay attention to all walkways and make sure they are clear and free of uneven surfaces that can easily create a tripping hazard.
Be aware of access to the patio area if there is a grill, fuel or fire starters.
Make sure outdoor lighting is adequate. Consider installing light sensors so that lights will automatically come on when you and your loved one approach the house.
We understand the desire of families to help their loved ones with Alzheimer’s remain at home. We hope the above information and resources can help you make this possible by creating a safe environment. Being aware of the long reach of dementia is a positive first step.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease and if the time comes when your loved one needs a higher level of care than you can provide, we hope you’ll consider Rock Creek Memory Support Assisted Living. Our specially trained and compassionate staff, therapies, programs and residences are all designed to provide our residents with the highest level of care, independence and dignity.
We are also a resource and offer support and education to our families.
Call (202) 846-2651 if you have any questions or would like to schedule a personalized tour today.