Safety around the home becomes a life-and-death issue for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, especially as the disease progresses. Persons with dementia may have the following problems that can put them in danger around the home:
– Disorientation that causes confusion about where they are
– Limited coordination and mobility
As caregivers of persons with dementia, making upgrades in the home is important to avoid falls and other accidents, as well as to prevent your loved one from wandering off and becoming lost. In the late stage of dementia, other physical safety concerns develop, including the ability to safely lift and move your loved one and the prevention of bedsores due to lack of mobility. On this page, we’ll discuss how to make the house safer for someone with dementia.
Older people are more susceptible to cold temperatures. Potentially dangerous drops in body temperature, known as hypothermia, may occur if it’s not warm enough. People with Alzheimer’s may not know how cold they are and won’t take appropriate steps to stay warm.
Chilly room temperature can cause a drop in strength and energy after only 45 minutes, and hypothermia can happen even when the temperature is not freezing, so the temperature in the home of your loved one with dementia should be set around 70 degrees.
– Drawing curtains or blinds at the right time of day can help keep a room warm.
– Weatherization and minor repairs can help a home hold its warm temperature. Programs to help seniors afford that cost of installing insulation or taking other steps to weatherize include the Department of Health and Human Services’ Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
As a person with dementia’s coordination decreases, it is important that your loved one be able to move about the house safely. The ability to walk can be dramatically affected by old age and dementia, as balance and muscles weaken. Memory problems can cause someone to become lost or confused in their own home. Also, a brain with dementia has difficulty understanding what the eyes are seeing, so someone with dementia might not know that objects in their way can cause tripping. Difficulty seeing can also lead to falls.
Studies say a person with dementia is five times more likely to be hospitalized because of a fall than someone without the disease.
– Make sure there are clear paths through rooms and hallways by getting furniture, cords, or clutter out of the way. This includes floor rugs that can be a tripping hazard.
– Make sure that rooms and hallways have non-slip walking surfaces and sufficient lighting.
– Consider placing nightlights in the bedroom, bathroom, and hallways if your loved one walks around at night.
– If there are stairs in the home, consider installing handrails, as well as safety strips on the steps.
Depending on your loved one’s stage of dementia, it may not even be safe to leave them alone in the bathroom. Bathroom floors can be notoriously slippery when wet, so falling is an important risk to consider. Scalding water is another way someone with dementia can hurt themselves.
– Place non-skid strips on the floor, the bathtub and / or shower.
– The addition of shower chairs, handheld showers, toilet seat risers, and grab bars in the shower and by the toilet make the bathroom a much safer place for persons with dementia who are lacking in mobility and balance.
– Remove the lock so your loved one can’t accidentally become locked in the bathroom.
– A foam rubber faucet cover in the tub can prevent a serious injury from falling.
– Set the water heater so the temperature can’t go higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. A single faucet that combines hot and cold water is a good idea.
– Keep medications in a locked cabinet only you can get to, not in an easily accessible bathroom medicine cabinet.
– Cover electrical outlets and remove small appliances.
Falls are not the only kinds of accidents that can hurt someone with dementia. Appliances like toasters and ovens can be left on until they’re burning, and remember that disorientation can cause someone to forget what they’re using or looking at. Any item that is sharp or poisonous poses a danger.
– Place complicated smaller appliances out of the reach of loved ones who might confuse their use or purpose.
– Install automatic shut-off devices for appliances, such as ovens and toasters.
– Remove stove top knobs and cover stove burners.
– Disable the garbage disposal. Child-proofing devices or locks on cabinets may be needed to safeguard cleaning supplies and chemicals, scissors, kitchen knives, matches, and other potentially harmful items or substances.
– Medications should also be kept in a safe place, as persons with dementia may not remember taking their medication and take extra an dose.
– Car keys are another item that should be well safeguarded.
Someone with moderate to severe dementia is unlikely to be aware of what the alarm sounds indicate if smoke or carbon monoxide detectors go off, but these and other home safety devices are still important.
– If you don’t already have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in the home, make sure to install them. If they are battery operated, make sure the batteries are working.
– Fire extinguishers should also be equipped in the home.
One of the scarier symptoms as a person advances into middle and later stages of dementia is wandering, which means walking away from the house and then becoming lost. More than half of people with dementia will wander, walking away from their home or loved one and then not knowing where they or are or how to return to safety.
– Outside windows and doors should have locks installed in out-of-sight places near the top or bottom of the doorframe.
– Installing alarms on doors and windows is another option.
– Get a medical alert bracelet or a simple card in your loved one’s wallet stating he or she has dementia. The individual’s address, your name, and your phone number should be included.
It is approximated that 40 – 60% of persons with dementia have firearms in their homes. This is a dangerous situation for obvious reasons.
– Make sure any firearm is unloaded and locked away when not in use.
– Keep the ammunition stored in a different location than the firearm itself.
– If you wish to get rid of the weapon or to learn more about firearm safety, talk to your local police or sheriff’s office.
As your loved one’s dementia advances to the late stages of dementia, new concerns arise.
Lifting your loved one will eventually become necessary in the later stages of dementia. If your loved one is no longer able to move independently, it is important to use proper techniques to avoid injury.
– Consult with a healthcare professional about proper ways to lift and turn your loved one.
– Moving your loved one’s limbs and joints when he or she no longer moves independently is important to prevent joints from “freezing” up. Consult with a physical therapist or nurse to learn how to slowly move the arms and legs two to three times per day and other ways to maintain range of motion.
Once your loved one is confined to a chair or a bed for long periods of time, pressure sores (also called “bedsores”) become a potential concern. These sores are from the individual remaining in the same position for long lengths of time.
– Changing your loved one’s position, a minimum of every two hours reduces the risk of bedsores.
– Use pillows or pads to protect bony areas and make sure to keep your loved one’s body properly aligned.
– Consult with a health care expert about your loved one’s degree of mobility.
– Special mattresses and special types of bandages may be needed.
– It is important to treat pressure sores early and seek medical care if they do not heal.
Hospice is care and support for terminally ill patients. As the dementia progresses to the final stage, you may wonder when it is appropriate to transfer your loved one to hospice care. Medicare offers guidelines on when they consider it appropriate for people to be covered for hospice care. For example, a doctor must certify that the individual has less than six months to live. Investigate ahead of time what hospice care options are available in your community and what you will need to do should the need arise.