In this new blog series, The Caregiver’s Toolkit for Alzheimer’s and Dementia, we offer in-depth resources for those caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Many individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia are capable of either staying in their homes or with a loved one for an extended period of time – requiring only minimal assistance with daily tasks. It’s important to recognize that those living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia have an increased chance of injuring themselves at home, especially as their condition progresses. The team at 305 West End have curated the following simple adjustments caregivers can make to help keep the home environment safe and comfortable for their loved one.
Understanding How Alzheimer’s and Dementia Impact Safety
As dementia progresses into the middle and later stages of the disease, staying at home can introduce a unique set of challenges. What was once a low-risk environment can pose a variety of safety risks due to your loved one’s cognitive impairment, as well as changes in their senses.
For instance, your loved one may not remember how to use everyday household appliances, or forget that they’ve left a pot of soup on a hot stove. Confusion about the date and time may cause them to cook breakfast at midnight, or decide to take a drive alone in the middle of the night.
It’s important to note that memory-related cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia affects more than your loved one’s ability to think and remember things. There are physical symptoms associated with dementia that should be considered when planning for safety. As an example, poor balance might cause a fall, while trouble distinguishing between hot and cold may lead to burns.
Evaluating Home Safety
As you begin to evaluate the safety of the home where your loved one is living – either their own or yours – consider their current abilities and behaviors. Do they wander? Can they manage stairs? If they have trouble lifting their feet or have experienced changes in balance, be sure to look for potential tripping hazards, too. As your loved one’s condition progresses you will need to re-evaluate each of these safety considerations.
Bathroom and Kitchen Safety
- Identify and secure hazardous products and appliances. Install child-proof locks on cabinets that contain chemicals, cleaning products, potentially dangerous items (such as matches, knives, or scissors), or medicines that could have an adverse effect on your loved one. As an added safety precaution, use child-proof caps for medications as well.
- Invest in non-skid mats and floor strips. Ensure that the bathtub or shower has a non-skid mat in place. As an extra precaution remove throw rugs, or secure them with non-skid rug pads.
- Remove door locks. In case your loved one has an emergency in the bathroom or their bedroom, remove the locks so you can get to them as quickly as possible.
- Put reminders near hot surfaces, such as the toaster oven, stove, or iron. These can be simple messages such as “Caution!” or “Stop! Very hot!” Also, unplug any appliances in the kitchen when they are not in use.
Living Room and Bedroom Safety
- Install a baby monitor in the bedroom. If your loved one is living with you, consider installing a monitoring device such as a baby monitor in their room. This can be especially useful if your loved one tends to wander at night.
- Address clutter immediately. Reduce the risk for tripping and falling by keeping well-traveled areas such as the bedroom and living room clutter-free. Also, remove or put out of reach any plants that are toxic to humans if touched or ingested.
- Beware of external heating sources. Lit candles or an open fireplace can be especially dangerous when it comes to someone with cognitive impairments. Also exercise caution when using portable space heaters, heating pads, or electric blankets due to the risk of harm from fluctuating temperature sensitivity, as well as the potential misuse of use these devices by your loved one.
- Mark stairs and elevation changes in the home with brightly colored tape. If you have a sunken living room or a set of stairs, apply brightly colored tape to the edges to draw attention to changes in elevation. This may help prevent stumbles or falls.
Additional Safety Considerations
Although your loved one’s hearing may be normal, their ability to process what they are hearing can be impacted as their condition progresses. To lessen the chances of them becoming confused or overstimulated, use the following tips:
- Limit visitation to one or two people at a time. When placed in a situation with too many people, your loved one may become confused, agitated, or overwhelmed. This is especially true if your guests aren’t regular visitors
- Reduce outside noise inside. If there is construction, traffic, or a noisy party nearby, close the windows or move your loved one to a quieter area of the house.
- Be mindful of noise sources inside the home. There are numerous electronic devices in our homes that can create quite a bit of noise. When combined, the sounds from the television, radio, computer, or smartphones can create a chaotic environment for your loved one. Check, and lower, the volume on all electronic devices to help_ prevent your loved one from becoming overwhelmed and confused.
More Caregiver Resources
Be sure to explore some of our additional caregiver resources, such as natural ways to boost your energy as a caregiver. If you would like to be notified about more articles like this one, including those in our caregiver’s toolkit series, sign up for our newsletter by entering your email address in the subscription box on the right.