As we age, our mobility and physical abilities decrease, which means modifications need to be made around our homes in order to live safely. However, if you’re a caregiver of a loved one with dementia, there are other factors you need to take into consideration in order to create a safe living environment. “Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia literally change how people see the world,” says Jimmie Fay Griffin, Executive Director of YourLife™ of Tallahassee. “These mental disorders affect the brain and often cause individuals to see the world in a confusing, unsettling way. Ordinary things can become frightening – shadows can be where dangerous creatures lurk, oil spots on the driveway may appear to be sinkholes, or they may not recognize themselves in a mirror and instead see a terrifying stranger.” That’s why, when making your home safer for a loved one, you’ll need to understand how people with memory issues and dementias view the world, as well as adjust your home for your family member’s health, abilities and behavior. “The first thing to ask is what your loved one can physically do,” says Griffin. “Can he or she use stairs safely? Does she have a history of falling, or has he started wandering at night? Besides affecting memory, dementias affect depth perception, coordination, strength and balance. It also makes it more difficult for people to understand instructions and make safe, appropriate choices.”
Home Safety 101
Since people with dementia have difficulty adjusting to changing environments, it’s important to prepare your home as early as possible. If your loved one hasn’t yet moved into your home, consider making as many changes as you can before moving day. Here are some high-level, house-wide changes to make your home easier to navigate and create a more calming feel for your loved one:
- Paint your walls a pale color that’s clearly different from your floor since people with dementia have difficulty with depth perception. If you have busy wallpaper, consider taking it down, as patterns can be confusing.
- While mirrors may brighten up a room, they can be disorienting and scary for individuals with memory issues, so remove when possible.
- Look at the floor and remove items that may cause your loved one to stumble, slip or trip, such as throw rugs, footstools, carpets that curl or bunch up and (of course) scattered toys. If you do have rugs, be sure they’re rubber-backed and as bright as possible (dark shapes on the floor may be seen as holes).
- Make sure lighting is bright (without causing glare) and consider night-lights on a sensor so your loved one can more easily navigate to the bathroom at night. Shadows can be ominous to those with dementia, so adequate lighting is important to keep them from being fearful.
- Since windows and sliding glass doors can look like open space, add some visual interest with decals, stickers or bright tape to indicate that there’s something there.
- Lock up dangerous, breakable and hazardous items, like electrical appliances, cleaning supplies, medications and other chemicals. In order to keep things simple, designate a “do not touch” zone, which can be as small as a cabinet or as large as a spare room. Install combination or key locks so your loved one won’t wander in.
- Install childproof latches on cabinets and drawers so your loved one can’t get into everyday items that could cause harm, like scissors, plastic bags, matches and alcohol or potentially dangerous supplies.
Safety in the Bathroom
- Install grab bars in the bathtub, shower and near the toilet. A shower chair and a hand-held shower head are also good ideas.
- Put non-skid mats near the sink, shower, toilet and bathtub.
- Remove door locks to keep your loved one from accidentally getting locked in.
Safety in the Kitchen
- Install safety knobs on your stove so your loved one won’t accidentally turn it on or off. Consider disconnecting the garbage disposal as well.
- Remove anything that looks like food but isn’t, like fake fruit or magnets that are shaped like something to eat.
Safety in the Bedroom
- Install a monitoring device such as a baby monitor.
- Avoid using room heating devices if possible – individuals with dementia could easily get burned or cause an electrical fire.
- Lessen the chance of nighttime wandering (and falls) by making sure your loved one uses the bathroom, eats and has a drink before he or she goes to bed.
Safety in the Laundry Room
- Block access to the washer and dryer, and be sure to keep doors and lids closed at all times. If your loved one tries to tamper with anything, consider removing any large knobs.
- If your laundry room has a door, consider locking it when not in use.
Safety in the Basement, Shed and Garage
- Lock up or remove guns and weapons from your home.
- Lock your vehicles and consider covering or removing items that aren’t used often (like bikes or scooters).
- Consider locking access to these areas if it’s convenient.
- Keep steps and walkways safe, making sure they’re clean of debris and free of ice in the winter. Consider marking step edges with bright tape so your loved one won’t accidentally step off.
- If you have a pool or hot tub, make sure there’s a fence around it that locks, and cover it when it’s not being used.
- Store your fuel sources safely, and remove them from your equipment (like your grill) when it’s not being used.
Additional Safety Tips
- Prominently display your home address and emergency numbers near the telephone.
- Lower your home phone’s ringer and adjust your voicemail to kick in after the minimum number of rings, as people with dementia may not be able to take messages or could be victimized by scammers.
- Cover electrical outlets that aren’t being used with childproof plugs, and be sure lamps are close to outlets in order to reduce tripping.
- Backup your computer files and consider password-protection, as well as monitoring your loved one’s computer usage.
When it comes to home safety for loved ones with dementia, remember that it’s a process that needs to be assessed and re-assessed. Since your loved one’s abilities can and will change, be sure to keep an eye on their strength, balance, mobility and coordination and make safety adjustments as needed. Be sure to report any changes to their doctor so that care routines can be adjusted. While the home safety process requires vigilance and some elbow grease, it can allow your loved one the chance to maintain their independence ... and give you peace of mind and ease caregiver stress. For more information about creating a safe home for your loved one with dementia, please contact our team today at 850-250-5671.
Inspired ● Engaged ● Fulfilled
If someone you love is living with memory loss, you want the very best for them. You’ll find it at YourLife™ of Tallahassee. Because Memory Care is all that we do, we have the unique ability to focus all our energy, attention and resources into creating an environment that caters to each resident’s needs, preferences and abilities while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families. We see each resident as an individual because we understand that each resident has their own story. Using this idea, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence while creating beautiful days. No matter how much care they need, our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists can provide assistance with all activities of daily living while providing reminders, guidance, support and cues. Even better, residents and their families experience true peace of mind knowing that expert care is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our personal touch doesn’t stop at our care. In fact, it’s only just the beginning. We create days that leave residents feeling Inspired. Engaged. Fulfilled through our signature programming, YourStory. With individual experiences centered around each resident, engaging outings, services and amenities, activities, dining and more, we create opportunities to learn and pursue new endeavors. At YourLife™ of Tallahassee, everything was designed for you, but it is defined by you, creating a lifestyle that makes every day a joy. Contact us to learn more!