Finding out your loved one has dementia can be scary, stressful and overwhelming. Dementia affects how a person functions and communicates, and as a progressive disease, symptoms get worse over time. According to a survey conducted by the Marist Poll, Americans fear developing Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, more than any other major life-threatening disease, including cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.
But with proper care, a person with dementia can live comfortably for years, and caregivers play an increasingly important role in helping with daily life, from securing safety at the home to arranging help and care services to planning for legal and financial issues.
Because a person with dementia is more at risk for safety issues such as accidents, falls, burns and poisoning, it’s critical to identify potential problems in the home and make each room a safer environment to prevent accidents.
If you are caring for a person with dementia, here are some tips for keeping your loved one safe at home.
Make the Home a Safe Place
With dementia, nerve cells in the brain are gradually damaged or destroyed, affecting parts of the brain that control memory, language, control movement and coordination. As the disease progresses, you will want to continually evaluate the home for potential safety issues.
In a recent study of home safety problems, accidents at the stove were frequent. You can help make the kitchen safer by installing an electrical current detection device that is activated when the stove is on and smoke alarm sounds or remove stove knobs and hide them in a nearby drawer. To make the bathroom safer, install safety rails in the tub and shower, and use non-skid bath mats in the shower and tub. Throughout the house, use night-lights to guide your loved one, and remove area rugs. Consider asking your loved one to wear a personal emergency alert system with built-in fall detection.
Manage Wandering Behaviors
In the middle and late stages of dementia, your loved one might wander and become disoriented. First, notify neighbors, and alert them to contact you or the police immediately if your loved one is seen alone and on the move. Then, install a motion sensor that monitors for activity, location, and the status of doors and windows.
You could also install a slide-bolt lock at the top or bottom of doors to the outside or put a sign that says “Stop” on any door that leads outside. It is also helpful to have your loved one wear an ID bracelet with his or her name, address, and a phone number in case they do wander and become missing or injured.
Prevent Accidental Poisoning
People with dementia have a higher risk of accidental poisoning. Not only might they lose taste sensitivity, but they also might put dangerous or inappropriate things in their mouths as their judgment starts to decline. To keep them safe, remove dangerous cleaning supplies such as drain cleaner and bleach from cabinets and remove all poisonous plants or aquatic life from the home. Keep the toll-free poison control number (1-800-222-1222) by the telephone, and have a bottle of ipecac available.
Additionally, your loved one might have trouble managing their medicines. To make sure they don’t forget a dose or double up by mistake, remove all medicine and vitamins from counters, and use a daily medication dispenser.
Caring for a person with dementia can be overwhelming, but with some planning and preparation, you can help prevent problems and keep your loved one safe at home. For caregiver support, visit the VA Caregiver Support website or call 855-260-3274.