As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, it can take away a person’s balance, memory and sense of time and space, and change eyesight, hearing and sensitivity to temperature. It may also make someone confused, fearful, tired and even suspicious. All this puts people with Alzheimer’s disease at greater risk for accidents. That’s why safety is such an important issue.
While needs may change as the disease does, here are a few simple safety tips to get you started:
- Keep health, abilities and behaviour in mind. It’s easier to change your home than it is to change the behaviour of a person with Alzheimer’s disease. But you want changes in your home to best suit your loved one’s needs. Is wandering a problem? Do they get up in the middle of the night? Do they tend to fall in one area of the house or when performing a certain activity?
- Evaluate your home. Take note of what needs to be done both inside and outside your home. Don’t forget about garages, workrooms and basements.
- Check the temperature of water and food. It can be hard for people for Alzheimer’s disease to tell if water is too hot for bathing or drinking, and if food is too hot for eating so test it first. Consider setting your hot water heater’s thermostat to below 48.9°C.
- De-clutter. Keep areas clear of obstacles that can cause someone to trip, like cords, decorative items, or items waiting to be put in the recycling bin. Outside your home, keep your walkway and garden free of debris (like foliage) and store your garden hose safely away
- Keep walkways, stairways and hallways well lit. Changes in light can be disorienting so try to keep lighting even throughout your home. For nighttime bathroom visits, use night-lights in the bedroom, hallway and bathroom.
- Mark glass doors, windows and furniture. Place a sticker or decal at eye level.
- Make your apartment or condo unit door easier to spot. A bow, wreath or photograph will help them spot home when getting off the elevator.
- Adjust the ring volume on your home phone. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, a loud ring can be very distracting and cause confusion. And set your voicemail/machine to pick up at the lowest number of rings.
- Fix uneven or slippery flooring. Tack down loose tiles, carpeting or rugs — or get rid of rugs. Put no-slip stickers on floors.
- Make the bathroom safer. Grab bars, a shower stool or chair, and nonskid strips or a mat in the tub or shower can make bathing safer. Also consider a raised toilet seat or grab bars for added security.
Finally, safety is important — but so is independence. So try and strike a good balance between the two. If daily activities are too restricted, your loved one may lose self-esteem.
Wandering and Alzheimer’s disease
Wandering is common and can start at any stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Some may forget the way to a place they visit often, want to go home when they already are, or think they have to get to work when they’ve already retired. Knowing why they wander may help you make it safer for them.
When done in a safe place, wandering isn’t necessarily dangerous. Consider using services — like MedicAlert’s Safely Home — which ensures your loved one can be identified with personal information and an emergency contact number.
Electronic locating devices (which track a person’s whereabouts) are also available. And while some believe these offer peace of mind, others consider them an invasion of privacy. Making the decision may involve a lot of people, particularly the person who has Alzheimer’s disease, family and caregivers.
For more information and support, search “Alzheimer’” in Find Support for organizations in your area.