Caring for someone with Alzheimer's, or any other form of dementia, can be challenging. In addition to managing doctor's appointments and medications, you'll have to take several safety issues into consideration. The following tips will help keep your loved one out of harm's way and give you some peace of mind.
1. Prevent wandering. Wandering is one of the most dangerous and most common symptoms of Alzheimer's. Approximately 60% or 6 in 10 Alzheimer's patients have wandered from home or their caregivers. To prevent wandering, try one or more of the following.
- Install a door alarm on every door with outside access.
- Place locks on exterior doors at a very high or very low height. Alzheimer's patients may be less likely to find or access a lock that's out of their line of sight.
- Install child-proof locks on windows, but be sure they can withstand an adult's force.
- Immediately address agitation and restlessness. Alzheimer's patients may wander because they're bored or not moving around enough. If you notice your loved one becoming agitated or restless, take them on a walk, dance around inside, or do some stretches. Alzheimer's patients need exercise and movement just like you.
- Immediately address disorientation. If you notice your loved one is becoming distressed or disoriented, use a calming voice to soothe and relax them. They'll be less likely to wander if they feel safe and comfortable in their environment.
2. Remove locks from bathrooms and bedrooms. Your loved one could easily lock themselves in a room and not remember how to unlock the door or be unable to do so if they suffer from arthritis or impaired motor skills.
3. Use nightlights and baby monitors. Your loved one may not remember where the light switches are located. Place nightlights in every room and hallway to ensure your loved one can see if they get up during the night. A baby monitor will alert you to an emergency in your loved one's room at night.
4. Remove tripping hazards. Area rugs, cords, and foam mats can be dangerous if your loved one tends to shuffle.
5. Lock up chemicals and dangerous objects. Use a child-safety lock or padlock to lock up chemicals and medications (stored separately) and a gun safe to lock up guns and ammunition. Also lock up knives and sharp appliances in the kitchen.
6. Create a safe kitchen.
- Install child-proof latches on cabinets containing dangerous or breakable objects.
- Install safety knobs and an automatic shut-off switch on the stove.
- Disconnect the garbage disposal. People with Alzheimer's may drop objects into the disposal or place a hand in a disposal while turned on.
7. Practice shower safety. If feasible, install a walk-in shower-tub combo and safety bars. At the very least, use a non-slip mat and shower chair to help with bathing your loved one.
8. Ensure outside areas of your home are safe.
- Prevent exterior steps and walkways from freezing.
- Add reflective tape to edges of steps.
- Consider installing a ramp and/or handrails if stairs are present.
- Remove tripping hazards, such as bushes blocking walkways or exposed roots.
- Place a "No Soliciting" sign on your door. Alzheimer's patients may become agitated or afraid when strangers knock on the door.
9. Don't leave Alzheimer's patients home alone. It can be difficult to never leave your loved one home alone, but try to arrange for another family member or temporary care worker to stay with your loved one while you're out. If you work full-time, then consider an elderly day care program or hiring an elderly care-worker to be at home with your loved one during the day.
10. Don't rely on your loved one's promises. Your loved one may promise not to use the car or stove, but you must remember that Alzheimer's patients don't have the short-term memory needed to remember the promises they've made.
Caring for an Alzheimer's patient at home is a wonderful idea. Being in a familiar place may comfort your loved one and be a more affordable option for your family, however as soon as you begin to notice warning signs that your loved one is no longer safe, you'll need to take immediate action. Consider hiring 24-hour Alzheimer's care or moving them to a nursing home.
Remember, the above safety tips may help keep your loved one safe at home, but are not a replacement for proper supervision.