Making your home safe for a loved one with Alzheimer’s
By Lydia Chan
When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, home safety takes on a whole new meaning. You may go for years satisfied that you’ve made your home environment safe by keeping sharp objects put away and cabinet doors closed.
Alzheimer’s changes the game radically: almost overnight you’re forced to see your home through very different eyes. Objects that may have occupied the same space for decades suddenly pose a lethal threat. It can be very easy to overlook something if you’re not very careful. For instance, if you’re not used to keeping your doors locked 24 hours a day, an Alzheimer’s patient can easily slip out and wander away.
Keeping a loved one with Alzheimer’s safe is a round-the-clock responsibility. It can be stressful and frustrating, forcing you to call on reserves of patience you didn’t know you had. You need to continually assess their capabilities and acuity, making any adaptations that a sudden change in their condition may require.
Keep a checklist
Making a checklist can help you maintain a safe environment. It should cover every room in your home, include instructions if there’s an emergency, and be revised or added to depending on your loved one’s situation. If you feel the need, request a home safety evaluation to make sure you’ve accounted for everything. Many healthcare professionals and social workers are fully qualified to help you with this important task.
Safe and secure
About 60 percent of the Alzheimer’s population wander off and get lost; one-third of those who aren’t found within 24 hours don’t survive. The first thing you should do is make certain that there are solid, reliable locks on all exterior doors and windows. If possible, put in an alarm system so you’re alerted the instant a window or door is unlocked. And conceal a house key somewhere in your yard in case you’re inadvertently locked out of the house.
Falls are another major safety concern if your loved one has Alzheimer’s. That makes your stairways very dangerous. Each should have a handrail running from the top all the way to the bottom step. Install safety strips on each stair to improve traction and help prevent slippage. If your family member needs help getting up and down stairs, make sure there’s a safety gate blocking the top and bottom (if your gates are worn or hand-me-downs, consider buying new ones).
Clear the clutter
Clutter is a big problem for people who suffer from dementia. Studies have shown that scattered objects only add to their confusion, and impair their ability to make sense of their surroundings. Clutter is a major cause of falls. An Alzheimer’s patient may have trouble navigating even familiar surroundings, so it’s important to keep everything picked up and off the floor. Avoid using extension cords if at all possible, and make sure that the grates on all floor vents are secure and even with the floor.
Medication, alcohol and more
A person who’s cognitively impaired can confuse a dangerous substance for something that’s perfectly harmless. Alcohol and cleaning fluids should be securely locked away in a cabinet and all medication should be kept in a safe place. Your loved one’s prescriptions should be clearly marked. Request a child-proof top if necessary.
A tense situation
Alzheimer’s disease affects about 5.4 million Americans, about 5.2 million of which are 65 and older. It can be your grandparent, your cousin, your sibling or even your parent who faces the diagnosis. Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s require round-the-clock care, and for many families, that means taking the loved one into their own home. Following a home safety checklist can help you control what can be a tense and frustrating situation.