How to Step In ... to Step Back: Supporting Independence in Mild Stages of Dementia

An initial dementia diagnosis can be overwhelming for families experiencing it for the first time. Many who don’t understand the many stages of memory loss might rush to step in and, among other things, hang up their loved one’s car keys or try to get them to move if they live alone.

In mild stages of memory loss, if the person is mobile and relatively healthy, this may not be necessary. However, setting up your loved one to live as independently as possible for as long as possible can give you the peace of mind you need to resist the urge to overstep.

“People with recent diagnoses can live independently for several years,” says Jessica Smith, Community Relations Director at YourLife™ of Wildwood, a new Memory Care community in Wildwood, Florida. “The degree of independence will change, perhaps very gradually, so it’s important for families to help their loved one prepare for these changes while being careful not to usurp independence before it’s time.”

In this post, we’ll consider how to step in and make driving and living at home safer during the mild stages of memory loss so you can take a step back.

 

DRIVING

People in mild stages of memory loss can usually continue driving safely but should be cleared by a doctor and given a professional assessment before getting back on the road. (Check your state’s laws regarding driving with dementia.)

Issues that families might think are related to the dementia diagnosis might be attributed to the effects of getting older. These include:

• Difficulty reading street signs

• Obstructed views or restricted movement due to changes in posture

• Medications that cause drowsiness

• Oncoming headlights and glare interfere with ability to drive at night

• Decline in reaction time

 

If your loved one’s memory loss isn’t posing dangers when driving, but their driving techniques and safety approaches could use a tune-up, step in with these tips:

• Rethink your loved one’s meds or prescription eyewear. If medications make them tired or interfere with their concentration, their doctor may prescribe alternative medications that will treat the condition without the side effects. It’s also a good time to make sure their eyewear prescription is up to date and to ask their optometrist to recommend a good pair of nighttime driving glasses.

• Get a CarFitSM assessment. CarFit is a program co-developed by AAA, AARP® and AOTA® (the American Occupational Therapy Association) that evaluates drivers and their vehicles to ensure they "fit" properly for maximum comfort and safety. A team of trained technicians and/or health professionals can recommend the best seat, steering wheel and mirror positions, useful vehicle modifications, posture tips, and more to make your loved one’s time behind the wheel less physically taxing.

• Ask them to take the online, self-paced AARP Smart DriverTM course. New laws and technologies make today’s driving environment vastly different from when your loved one first got licensed. Plus, completion of this course could qualify your loved one for a multiyear car insurance discount.

• Consider car safety upgrades. AARP’s 90-minute Smart DriverTEKSM online workshop can help your loved one understand the latest high-tech safety features that can increase their – and your – peace of mind when they’re on the road. Learn about rearview cameras, smart headlights, automatic emergency braking systems, collision warning systems, drowsy driver alerts, assistive parking systems, blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems, and more.

RELATED: Safety First: Wearable Location Devices

 

Note: Even if your loved one stops driving but can live alone, you don’t have to assume the role of chauffeur or errand-runner. Not in today’s wonderful world of convenience and user-friendly apps.

• Teach them how to use a transportation service like Uber and takeout delivery apps like DoorDash.

• Help them set up automatic deliveries for prescriptions, groceries, and frequently restocked toiletries, pet food, detergents, paper products, and other household items. Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program has thousands of items available to mix and match for discounted rates.

 

LIVING ALONE

Seniors with mild dementias can live alone for several years before considering a move, either to your home or a memory care community. Even those with no symptoms still carry the typical risks that come with aging, such as loss of balance or muscle weakness, and their disease will progress. Step in with these tips to get their home ready to support their independence as needs change.

• Replace outdated kitchen and other appliances with models with automatic shut off features.

• Secure handrails on both sides of indoor and outdoor stairs. 

• Fix broken, loose, or uneven steps, walkways, and flooring.
• Secure carpets and place anti-slip tread or no-slip tape on stairs and non-carpeted floors.

• Add proper lighting in all rooms and entranceways, at the tops and bottoms of stairs, and at each end of a hallway.
• Place backlit light switches in convenient, easy to reach places.
• Make sure your loved one’s sofas and chairs are easy to get in and out of.
• Mount grab bars on both sides of toilets and inside and outside of tubs and showers.
• Install a sturdy shower chair and handheld showerhead. For tubs, consider a transfer bench to help your loved one enter and exit the tub safely.
• Install automatic nightlights in the bedroom, bathroom, and hallways.

• Keep large-print emergency numbers near all landlines and programmed in your loved one’s cell phone. 

• Keep a list of current medications and dosages on the refrigerator.
• If your loved one’s bedroom is up- or downstairs, think about converting a space on the main floor into a bedroom if mobility might be an issue in the next few years.

RELATED: Dementia-Safe Living Spaces: Home Modifications to Make Now 

 

“It’s important for families to regularly reassess their loved one’s degree of independence and to respect their loved one’s desire to keep what is left,” notes Jessica Smith from YourLifeTM. “As dementia progresses, ‘stepping back’ when possible can help the person feel valued and capable.”

RELATED: Alzheimer’s Caregiving: When to Step In and When to Step Back 

 

For more ways to support your independent loved one with mild memory loss, call our dementia care experts at YourLife™ of Wildwood today at 352-433-0942.

 

Designed for You. Defined by You.

YourLife™ of Wildwood provides the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. In fact, we were created with that one purpose in mind. Each day, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating an environment that caters to each resident’s personal needs, choices and individuality, while ensuring unequaled peace of mind and dedicated support for families.

At YourLife™ of Wildwood, we have the ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents thanks to our sole focus on Memory Care. We understand that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities, so we develop personally inspired care plans that help to enhance and support each person’s independence while enriching their days. To ensure further peace of mind, our team of YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection.

With our signature YourStory programming, we not only personalize Memory Care, but we are able to create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and wellness programming to scheduled outings and other special events, to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning. At YourLife™ of Wildwood, our residents and their families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more!

Call us at 352-433-0942 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.

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