How To Make Home Safer For A Loved One With Alzheimer’s Or Dementia

Has your loved one recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia?

The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is among the most challenging to handle. The person’s memory deteriorates over time and they eventually become unable to perform simple daily activities such as brushing their teeth, going to the bathroom, and taking a shower, among others.

That’s why it’s so important for us to educate ourselves on both how to be the best caregiver we can be, and how to take care of ourselves along the way by maintaining proper perspective when going through the caregiving experience.

This in-depth guide is divided into 8 sections with step-by-step guidance to help you make home as safe as possible for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Most importantly, you are not alone. Did you know…

So, what do all of these statistics mean in plain English?

It’s very simple.

These figures suggest that the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease is growing rapidly.

People age >85 suffer the most from Alzheimer’s disease in the US, followed by individuals age 75-84 years (44%), 65-74 years (15%), and <65 years (4%).

In a nutshell, these scientific discoveries indicate that new cases of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are expected to climb as the population of people age >65 increases daily.

It could be stressful providing care for a loved one that was recently diagnosed with dementia. According to Alz.org, almost two-thirds of caregivers are women and 34% of these women are age 65 or older. Approximately 41% have a yearly income of $50,000 or less, and about 25% of dementia caregivers are considered part of the “sandwich generation” – this means that they have aging parents as well as kids under age 18.

What do these statistics mean? It’s simple. Alzheimer’s can easily become overwhelming for caregivers. Individuals caring for loved ones with dementia are twice as likely to express emotional, physical, and financial dissatisfaction compared to caregivers of patients without dementia.

(Image credit: Alzheimers: Handbook For The Caretaker)

Caregivers of dementia patients are twice as likely to express emotional, physical, and financial dissatisfaction in comparison to caregivers of patients without dementia.

Does this mean that taking care of a person with dementia always has to be a horrifying experience for the caregiver? The answer is no – it doesn’t have to be this way. The key lies in preparing ahead of time so that you can successfullly and easily handle every challenge that may head your way.

As a caregiver, it is important to make the home a safe, pleasant, and welcoming place for everybody – including you, your loved one with dementia, and relatives and visitors alike.

There are many things you can do to reduce risks for the dementia patient and help them whenever they face a problem down the line. By doing so, you make the home a safer place for everyone and your loved one with dementia can stay there for a longer period of time.

In this in-depth guide, we’ll provide you with simple and easy-to-follow tips to make your home safe for a loved one with dementia

The following essential topics will be covered:

Ensuring Safety Inside The Home

It’s crucial that your home is safe for everyone, but special attention must be given when taking care of a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. You can easily make your surroundings a safer place by following these simple tips.

Carpets and rugs inside a home may seem like home decorations for family members, but they often represent a falling hazard for individuals with dementia. Older people with dementia may be reluctant when it comes to change, which could represent a challenge. You can communicate with your loved one firmly yet gently, helping them understand that it’s necessary to remove potentially risky objects out of the way to ensure the safety of everyone.

Similarly, if there’s an oversized lamp near the center of a room, you can move it against the wall. If possible, power cords should be placed under carpets to avoid a tripping hazard.

As a caregiver, you can discuss these issues with your loved one and other family members. Everyone should cooperate in clearing debris to ensure that the home a safe place to live.

Your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia may also suffer from visual impairment. Color vision and depth perception are often compromised as Alzheimer’s progresses. Depth perception is the ability to judge the distance of an object and perceive the world in three dimensions (3D). To help a patient perceive depth and space in the home, make sure to use color contrast for floor covering, rugs, window coverings, and bedding.

Alzheimer’s patients also experience problems visualizing dark objects. These objects often appear as giant black holes. Therefore, you should generally avoid wearing very dark colors or anything black, as this often disturbs the patient and leads to restlessness.

You can also place childproof locks on cabinets and use doorknob covers so that certain areas of the house are never locked for practical purposes.

Also, you can place deadbolts near the base or top of the door exterior to make sure your loved one is always safe inside the home.

I. Bathroom safety tips:
Ensuring safety inside the home

The bathroom is a notoriously dangerous area in the home as it may become wet and slippery, increasing the risk for falls. It might be a good idea to devote one bathroom to the patient in order to make it especially safe for them.

In the earlier stages of dementia, the patient may be able to use the bathroom on their own, but as the condition deteriorates, these tasks become more and more challenging.

Installing grab bars next to the toilet, near the sink, and in the bathtub will keep your loved one safe in the bathroom. Early on in dementia, these support structures can facilitate movement and help individuals use the bathroom independently. Grab bars can help them maintain their balance as they begin loosing mobility and can potentially prevent devastating injuries.

People above a certain age are more subject to slip and fall accidents, which is an especially problematic issue in Alzheimer’s patients. Experts recommend that you place nonskid mats in the shower or bathtub. You might consider installing wall-to-wall carpets to cover the floor of the bathroom as these are safer for patients. If this is inconvenient, you might consider placing nonskid mats or strips near the shower, bathtub, sink, and toilet.

Even with the utmost care, there is still a chance that accidents will happen and your loved one will become injured. This is why it’s very important to shield sharp objects with rubber covers. Rubber devices can be used to cover faucets in the shower or bathtub, which helps minimize injury in case an accidental fall occurs.

It is very important to keep an eye on the progress of the patient because these changes will affect their ability to use different facilities in the house. Make sure that locks are removed from the bathroom to prevent patients from locking themselves in. If they are using the bathroom on their own, you might want to install a security device that will alarm you in case they fall. Make sure that all medications, cleaning items, and electric appliances are stored away in a safe place. It is also helpful to preset the water temperature or install a single faucet with a prefixed temperature to avoid burns.

II. Bedroom safety tips:
Ensuring safety inside the home

Your loved one will spend a lot of time in the bedroom and this is why it is important to make sure that the bedroom is perfectly safe for them to use.

You can install a security system or a video monitor to keep an eye on the patient and attend to their needs as soon as possible.

Always remove items from the floor and secure rugs. It is also beneficial to install wall-to-wall carpeting to prevent slip and fall accidents.

The use of portable fans and heaters is not recommended as these can be a safety hazard. Try installing a central heating or cooling system to regulate room temperature without leaving unsafe electric devices around the bedroom. Fans should be fixed to the wall or ceiling so that the patient can’t make physical contact with the fan blades.

Be careful if you are using electric mattresses or blankets. It is very important to keep their controls out of reach because the patient can get burnt if the temperature is not properly regulated.

Remember, you want to make Alzheimer’s patients feel as relaxed as possible because they can experience a lot of emotional distress – this means not confining them to a certain place or area. The use of a night light can help patients get around more comfortably at nighttime, especially if they need to use the bathroom.

A person with Alzheimer’s might be subject to accidents if they fall out of bed. This is why it is advisable to lay mattresses on the floor next to the bed to minimize injuries. In some cases, you might consider buying a hospital style bed with rails that will keep the patient secure.

III. Kitchen and food safety tips: Ensuring safety inside the home

Sharing a kitchen with others can be problematic for some people, but sharing it with a loved one with dementia can be even more challenging and unsafe at times.

Security for everyone, including you and your loved one, has to be taken into consideration.

According to Ruth Drew – the Director of Family and Information Services at the Alzheimer’s Association – “taking a ‘person-oriented’ approach is the best method of solving the issue of kitchen safety. Your loved one with dementia may actually be more than willing to be part of the action. That means they help you do the dishes, peel carrots, and help mix cookie batter.”

So, how do you take a ‘person-focused’ approach? The answer is simple. You need to ask these questions to get to know your loved one a little bit better (if you don’t already):

  • What did your loved one with dementia enjoy doing in the past?

  • What does he or she like to do now?

  • What is he or she still capable of doing today?

Having answers to these basic questions will help you make decisions about safety, including how your loved one with dementia can act in the kitchen.

“And depending on the level of the activity of your loved one with dementia, you may have to take necessary precautions to make sure everyone in the home is safe,” concludes Drew.

Here’s what Drew proposes you do to keep your kitchen safe for your loved one with dementia:

  • Keep knives and other sharp tools and utensils in drawers with safety locks.

  • Prevent burns by keeping the water temperature low, or position the Alzheimer patient far from the hot stove.

  • Store poisonous chemicals in a drawer with a safety locker.

Is it worth taking all of these extra steps?

Well, you may feel slightly frustrated and embarrassed locking up those sharp knives and other potentially harmful items, but going an extra mile to ensure the safety of your loved one in the kitchen will be worth it.

You see, it’s far simpler to prevent a problem before it occurs. It can be extremely challenging to solve a problem – or even worse, a catastrophe – after it has already taken place.

And, here’s a thing about “food safety.”

It may not bother you seeing your teenage daughter drink milk from the carton, but witnessing the same behavior by your father can be quite embarrassing. Licking strawberry jam off a knife and rehashing the knife in jelly is a big NO.

Your loved one with dementia doesn’t want to taint food on purpose. They do this because they don’t have the judgement or memory to understand it is a socially unacceptable behavior. But this type of behavior may easily drive you “crazy.”

Cultivating Daily Routines

A daily routine in Alzheimer’s or dementia care not only provides a pleasant experience for the caregiver, but also offers a necessary consistency in the patient’s life. You can ask your medical team or Alzheimer’s support group for some valuable ideas on how to establish routines to tackle the most challenging times of the day.

One thing you must remember: routines have to be structured and familiar to the patient. One way to familiarize your loved one is to regularly perform activities (such as waking up, bathing, eating meals, dressing, and sleeping) at specific times of the day. This is important because occasionally, your loved one may not know or fully understand what to expect at different times of the day. You can easily establish different times of the day by using visual cues such as opening the curtains in the morning to let sunlight in or playing quiet music in the evening to indicate it’s bedtime.

Also, you can try to engage your loved one in daily activities as much as possible. For instance, if they are unable to prune roses, they might be able to water plants. Similarly, if they can’t tie their shoes, they may be able to put their laundry in the hamper.

Incorporating Healthy Activities

As you begin to fall into the daily routine, it’s essential that your loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s is getting regular socialization and sensory stimulation. But don’t stretch it to the point of exhaustion or overstimulation.

One simple way to introduce a variety of activities in the life of a person with dementia is by asking them about their interests. Once you know what their interests are, you can tailor activities around them. But make sure those activities are simple to perform and suitable for their level of functionality. Complex or difficult activities can lead to embarrassment in front of others.

Try altering their activities to arouse senses such as touch, smell, sight, and hearing. For instance, one day you can try sensory activities such as telling stories and singing songs. The next day, you can try physical activities such as walking, dancing, or swimming. On the third day, you can organize activities incorporating physical touch such as gardening, painting, playing with a pet, or working with clay.

Outdoor activities can also be therapeutic and healing. You can visit a park, go for a drive, or take a short stroll around your neighborhood at least once a week. Sometimes, even sitting in the backyard or on a balcony can be very relaxing.

You can also search for community centers and senior centers for outside group activities, as they often host and organize group events catering to individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Handling Social Events and Receiving visitors

When visitors come to a house of a person suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can be the most exciting time of the day because you have an opportunity to take a break and socialize.

One thing you can do as a caregiver is plan a time for the visit so that your loved one can best receive visitors and guests.

You can share communication tips with visitors and even suggest that they bring memorabilia that your loved one adores, such as their favorite book.

Organizing a family gathering or social event can be pleasurable and exciting, but you need to ensure that your guests are comfortable around your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease. Make your events and social gatherings enjoyable, light, and fun – something your loved one can handle. Avoid excessive activity that may be overwhelming.

Dealing With Firearms At Home

A small study revealed that guns are present in 60% of homes of individuals with dementia. Approximately 44% of families knew the guns were kept loaded, 38% said they didn’t know if the guns were loaded, and only a handful of families (16%) reported that the guns were kept unloaded.

What does this mean in plain English? Well, it means that if there’s a firearm inside the home of a loved one with dementia, you need to take immediate action for everyone’s safety. Here are a few simple tips to deal with firearm issues:

First, if you can, remove firearms BEFORE they become a huge problem.

If your loved one is attached to the firearm and it isn’t possible to get rid of it, you can consider storing the firearm unloaded in a secure place. Even better, lock it inside a secure case or firearm vault.

Also, make sure your loved one with dementia never has free access to firearms. You should always be vigilant and keep your eye on them to avoid any potential hazards that may arise due to firearm mishandling.

The next thing you can do is ask everyone in the home – including family members and relatives – to make it a priority to learn safe and proper handling of firearms.

An alternative way of dealing with firearms in the home is by asking a neighbor or friend to “borrow” or even “store” the firearm. If possible, request that they store or keep it permanently. You may have to contact a certified dealer to help you fill out the appropriate paperwork and legally transfer gun ownership to your neighbor or friend.

You can also ask someone to take away the gun for “professional maintenance or cleaning” services. Additionally, you can ask a professional to disable the trigger mechanism.

And, if you’re absolutely afraid of handling the gun yourself, you can contact your local law enforcement agency to come out and help you. They’ll not only come to your home and fetch the gun, but also destroy it. They may ask to see a dementia diagnosis statement from a doctor, so make sure the documents are ready when they knock on your door.

If you still have no other option, then take the gun to a nearby Sherriff’s Department. Bring the gun unloaded in the back of your car. Go inside the police station and notify the front desk officer that you brought in a firearm that you’d like to turn in for the safety of a loved one with dementia. Don’t forget to take a diagnosis statement from a doctor, as they may ask for it. An officer will accompany you to the vehicle and bring back the firearm and bullets.

Communicating Effectively

Although the progression of dementia varies from one person to another, most people with the disease tend to repeat the same stories and have a difficult time finding the “right” words to get their point across.

They may also face other types of communication problems, such as slurred speech, losing track of their speech and thoughts, speaking less, inventing new words, and sometimes even going off on tangents.

Even though individuals with dementia have difficultly expressing themselves properly, they can still experience and respond to emotions and feelings. They may feel disappointed in their inability to communicate properly and down when they can’t follow what other people are saying to them.

This is why communicating with a person with dementia can become a challenge. It may make you irritated, anxious, and confused.

But here’s a simple trick that’ll instantly remove these unpleasant experiences and help you communication properly with a dementia patient: When it comes to communication with your loved one with dementia, don’t focus on what you say… rather, focus on how you say it.

That’s it. You need to show some empathy and understanding to the patient.

Here are simple (yet powerful) ways to show sympathy and communicate effectively with someone with dementia.

  • Avoid interrupting your loved one when they’re speaking.

  • Tell them that it’s fine if they have difficulty finding the words to express themselves.

  • Focus on their feelings and emotions rather than on facts. Also, be aware of their body language and tone of voice.

  • Show them respect and avoid talking to them like a baby.

  • Avoid talking about the person with dementia as if they’re not present in the room. Always assume that they understand what they’re saying to you.

  • Sometimes conversations can become frustrating. Quick fix? Stay calm and react.

Here’s a brief list of Do’s and Don’ts when communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia:

  • Don’t give up on speech. Keep on trying.

  • Speak to the person in a normal tone of voice, just as if you were speaking with others.

  • Don’t ask too many questions at once. Instead, ask one question at a time. Give one instruction at a time if your loved one doesn’t remember their activities of daily living.

  • Avoid using negative statements.

  • Avoid using insulting language and immediately change the topic to redirect their attention.

  • Eliminate distractions, such as radio or TV.

Remember – even if your loved one has lost most of their verbal skills, they can still understand laughter, smiles, and a kind touch.

Preparing For Emergency Situations

Emergency situations such as a fires or hurricanes can significantly disrupt everyone’s safety, particularly when there’s a loved one with dementia in the house. The sooner you’re prepared for an emergency situation, the better you’ll be able to cope with it.

To get started quickly, make sure your emergency kit contains these invaluable items.

  • Bottled water

  • Medications for common ailments

  • Favorite food items

  • A set of extra clothing

  • Copies of important documents

  • Incontinence products

  • A recent picture of the person with dementia

  • Identification items that may include the MedicAlert+

An emergency may occur at any time, and if you absolutely need to evacuate, ensure that your plans meet your loved one’s needs. For instance, if the person uses a wheelchair or a walker, make sure your emergency plan takes this into consideration. If your loved one with dementia is living in a residential facility, make sure you understand the facility’s evacuation and disaster plans.

As dementia progresses, staying safe becomes more and more significant. But with these simple and easy accommodation and planning tips, you can ensure that every family member, including your loved one with dementia, is safe and comfortable.

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