THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME: CREATING SAFE ENVIRONMENTS FOR PEOPLE WITH ALZHEIMER’S
Your own home is a very special place no matter how old you are. Whether it’s an apartment, condo or cottage, your house is a safe place where you can take your shoes off, relax and be yourself. Home is filled with familiar furnishings and memories – a comfy, cozy chair, your grandmother’s antique dresses, and family photo albums. You know just where the bathroom is and can almost find it in your sleep!
For someone with Alzheimer’s or other memory disorder, home may not always be the safest or most convenient place to live. As a caregiver you can help your parent make modifications so she can continue to live safely in familiar surroundings.
Begin making your parent’s home “Alzheimer's Friendly” by conducting a “home checkup.” Take a tour of the house and make a list of any repairs or renovations that will make it safe, comfortable, convenient, and secure for someone with a failing memory.
Give special attention to these potentially dangerous areas of the house.
Going up or down stairs can be treacherous for people with memory loss— especially if they also have poor vision, difficulty walking or balance problems. To prevent falls:
- Install handrails on both sides of the stairway
- Make sure stairs are well-lit with switches at the top and bottom
- Repair or remove tom carpeting
- Replace worn stair treads
- Keep stairs free of clutter
Bathrooms are also hazardous places. It’s used frequently so it must be as safe and convenient as possible for people with memory problems who might also have physical disabilities. Suggestions for improving bathroom safety:
- Install grab bars in the bathtub, shower and next to the toilet
- Install easy to use faucets with easy-to-grasp handles that are easy on arthritic fingers
- Keep the hot water heater temperature at 120 degrees or lower to avoid accidental scalds
- Make sure lighting is good: install a nightlight so the bathroom is easy to find at night
- Use rubber-backed rugs or bathmats to prevent falls
If you parent has trouble finding the bathroom, tape a picture of a toilet to the bathroom door to remind him where it is and what it’s for.
Living rooms present a variety of obstacles that can cause falls or other mishaps.
Safety tips for living rooms:
- Put away small throw rugs — they’re easy to trip over
- A void using extension cords for lamps, the TV or other appliances
- Don’t put rugs or furniture on top of electrical cords
- Use the correct wattage light bulbs for lamps and light fixtures
- Don’t eat in the living room to prevent insects and other household pests
- Replace or remove worn carpeting
Even if your parent no longer cooks he or she may enjoy spending time in the kitchen watching you prepare dinner. If he or she wants to help prepare meals give him simple, safe tasks like beating eggs, setting the table or folding napkins.
To avoid injuries or fires:
- Lock up knives, scissors and other sharp objects, matches and lighters
- Remove knobs from the stove so it can’t be turned on
- Remove rugs to prevent falls
- Put childproof plugs in electrical outlets
STRATEGIES FOR SAFE WANDERING
Sixty percent of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease wander away or get lost at sometime during their illness. This can be a frightening and dangerous experience for the family and their older relative. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests ways families can manage wandering behaviors and ensure their relatives’ safety:
- Take frequent walks with your relative to reduce anxiety and restlessness
- Exercise during the day will help your parent sleep better at night
- Involve your parent in household chores like sorting laundry, setting the table, pulling weeds to keep him active and occupied
- Create indoor and outdoor wandering trails in a fenced-in backyard or around the house.
- Hide doors with curtains, pain or wallpaper that matches the wall. Install sliding bolt locks on outside or basement doors that are high enough so your parent can't reach them.
- Explain to neighbors that your relative has a memory problem. Ask them to let you know right away if they see him outside alone.
- Some wanderers also try to drive. Hide the car keys where your parent can’t find them or disable the ignition so the car won’t start.
SIGN UP FOR “SAFE RETURN”
Every year an estimated 127,000 older people with memory disorders wander away from their homes according to the Alzheimer’s Association. If wanderers are not found within the first 24 hours after their disappearance they are likely to be seriously injured or dead. Wanderers can also suffer from falls or other injuries The Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program has created a nationwide information and photo database of individuals with memory disorders. This database is available to law enforcement agencies across the country to help return people with Alzheimer’s who have wandered away and gotten lost return to their families.
For a registration fee of $45 individuals enrolled in “Safe Return” receive identification clothing labels, bracelets or necklaces wit the toll free 800 Safe Return phone number. When someone with Alzheimer’s, who is enrolled in the program, is found, an individual or law enforcement officer calls the toll-free 24-hour Safe Return phone number and the individual's family or caregivers are notified.
HOME IS BEST!
Many families are determined to care for a parent with Alzheimer’s at home for as long as possible. If you understand how memory loss affects your parent's behaviors and abilities to manage everyday activities, you can make modifications to your house that will ensure his or her safety and wellbeing and your peace of mind.
A version of this article appeared in Private Health News.