Contrary to popular belief, most older Americans with advancing dementia remain in their own homes. With that said, home safety is important for everyone, but especially those with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia.
Falls are a leading cause of broken hips and other serious injuries in the elderly, and individuals with Alzheimer’s are twice as likely to fall. They also experience significantly higher mortality rates from those falls than others in the same age group. Furthermore, problems with vision, perception and balance increase as Alzheimer’s advances, making the risk of a fall more likely. Following are several easy fixes that can be made to the home to ensure your loved one’s safety, as well as your own:
General safety tips
- Eliminate excessive clutter. If your loved one lives in a home with stairs, consider primarily using the downstairs rooms. Make sure the bedroom is on the ground level.
- Secure showers. Showering is sometimes difficult for individuals with dementia. Installing handrails and using a shower chair in the bath/shower can make bathing safer. Place nonskid strips or a non-slip mat in the bathtub and shower.
- Temper tripping. Remove throw rugs and inconveniently placed furniture as they can often be tripping hazards. Install handrails in high-risk areas such as porch steps.
- Consider even lighting. Changes in levels of light can be disorienting. Create an even level by adding extra lights in entries, outside landings and areas between rooms, stairways and bathrooms. Use night lights in hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms.
Special bathroom hazards to consider
Similar to falls, accidents that occur in the bathroom can be catastrophic for the elderly, even more so for someone with Alzheimer’s. Here are steps you can take to make the bathroom a safe environment for your loved one with dementia:
- Provide light in dark areas. Motion sensors are a great idea all around the house, but in the bathroom, they can be used to turn on lights and exhaust fans, and with a timer, the devices will not be left on indefinitely.
- Location awareness. Chimes or a bell can be placed above the bathroom entrance to alert you that it has been entered and that assistance may be required.
- Grab hold items. Remove anything that cannot withstand a person’s weight or could cause additional injury such as tub/shower soap dishes and towel bars. Rely only upon properly-installed grab bars for fall protection.
- Easy access. Move cleaning and hygiene products to a secure location. Use open shelving (rather than cupboards) so that necessary items can be easily accessed.
- Stay out of hot water. Lower the temperature setting on your hot water heater so that if your loved one accidentally turns on the hot water, he or she will not be scalded or burned.
Kitchens contain a plethora of dangerous items for individuals with dementia. Keep the following tips in mind as you make changes for a safer kitchen:
- Think childproof. Install “childproof” door latches on storage cabinets and drawers designated for breakable or dangerous items. Lock away all households cleaning products, matches, knives, scissors, blades, small appliances and anything valuable.
- Lock up medications and supplements. If prescription or nonprescription drugs are kept in the kitchen, store them in a locked cabinet.
- Is it edible? Remove artificial fruits and vegetables or food-shaped kitchen magnets which might appear to be edible.
- Down the drain. Insert a drain trap in the kitchen sink to catch anything that may otherwise become lost or clog the plumbing.
- Don’t get burned. Install safety knobs and an automatic shut-off switch on the stove.
Nobody wants their home to look like a hospital. Luckily, these easy fixes offer subtle changes that can help to make a huge difference in your loved one’s safety.
Editorial by Patricia Riley, MBA, board member of Alzheimers Coachella Valley, a community resource for dementia support and education. For more information, call (760) 776.3100 or visit www.cvalzheimers.org.