If you are tasked with caring for someone with dementia, you are all too familiar with its devastating effects. It is not just about people forgetting familiar faces or details of their lives, it is about eventually forgetting how to do anything. As cognitive function declines, danger can lurk in every corner of the home. To keep your loved one safe, modifications must be made. Here are some helpful tips for creating a safe environment for someone suffering from dementia.
Assess the Home
As someone with normal brain function, it is hard to see how certain things may pose a danger. The first step in making the necessary changes is taking a good, hard look around your home through the eyes of someone with this disease. Are there any objects around that may cause injury? Are there areas of the home that may be dangerous?
Focus on Adapting Rather than Teaching
The brain of someone with dementia is ‘’broken.’’ What may seem simple , obvious or rational to you is not to this person. When it comes to making your home safer, focus on adapting as best you can rather than trying to teach the person something, or have him rely on your instructions to avoid doing certain things or certain areas of the home.
As dementia advances, it often becomes necessary to install extra locks to prevent your loved one from wandering out of the house or accessing certain areas of the home. Use deadbolts on the doors and place them either very high or very low so they are not immediately obvious to the person. Getting locked inside a room can be dangerous, so remove locks from bedrooms and bathrooms.
Dementia often makes walking more difficult and tripping more likely. Those lovely area rugs may add some pizzazz to your décor, but they also add a tripping hazard to a patient with dementia. Swap out floor lamps for table lamps. Remove any clutter from the floors to keep the area clear.
A well-lit home is a safer home. Use night lights in the hallway and your loved one’s bedroom in the evening hours. Add extra lighting anywhere through which your loved one will be walking.
The bathroom can be an especially dangerous place for someone with dementia. Grab bars in the shower and a fold-down shower seat are good safety measures to put in place. Non-slip floor mats and slip-resistant appliqués should be applied. Grab bars are also a good idea for the toilet, as are raised seats. Providing color contrast is also important. If you have an all-white bathroom for example, it may be hard to see that white toilet—get a colored cover to make it easily identifiable.
The dark can be very scary for someone with Alzheimer’s disease and a night light in the bedroom is a very good idea to prevent disorientation and agitation that may arise if your loved one awakes during the night. An intercom or a bell should be available so if your loved one needs assistance during the night, she can easily reach out to you.
The kitchen is a hot-bed of potential dangers for a dementia patient. How to exactly safeguard your loved one will depend on the level of their cognitive abilities. Appliances that automatically turn off are a good choice. Take knobs off the stove or cover them so they are not easily visible. The microwave can be a safe alternative, but there is always the risk the person will put the wrong type of container in it—it may be best to keep it unplugged and keep the plug out of sight. If you have an electric range, use a lock-out switch so you are the only person that can turn it on. Lock the oven door; install safety latches on cabinets and drawers. Install an automatic turn-off on the faucet.
There is no way you can possibly anticipate all the ways to make your home safer, but there is plenty you can do right now. As cognitive abilities decline, more modifications will be necessary. Always be on the lookout for potential hazards and act accordingly.