Is your loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s living at home? If so, your living space might not be safe enough for them. A plastic toy left on the floor or a rug can easily cause a fall – something which can cause serious and sometimes fatal injuries. That doesn’t mean Alzheimer’s patients cannot reside in their homes. But before they can do that, you need to take some measures and make a few changes to ensure their safety indoors.
Alzheimer’s typically affects memory, impairs senses, and even takes a toll on the patient’s physical faculties. They can have trouble making sense of their current location and even time, which means they’re increasingly susceptible to losing their way if they are outside. This problem is exacerbated by the risk of wandering because their condition often leaves them confused, agitated, and paranoid. If they wander out of the house, they’re at the risk of endangering themselves and losing their way back home.
Even though these symptoms can be generalized to a certain extent, there are certain risks unique to your loved one. And to afford them more mobility and freedom, you need to minimize these risks surrounding your loved one with a personalized plan.
Naturally, the first step to coming up with a personalized plan is doing a bit of evaluation. For instance, you can start by asking yourself if they become disoriented or if they tend to wander? Can they walk up the stairs unattended? Do they lose their balance often? Do they forget to turn appliances off or how to operate them? By anticipating these potential risks you’ll be better prepared to address them.
Make sure that their immediate surroundings are adequately well-lit by installing more lamps and fixtures or increasing the brightness of the ones already fitted. You can also install nightlights in the hallway, stairs, and the bathroom.
Get rid of tripping and falling hazards like loose rugs, small coffee tables, and extension cords. If you need rugs, consider investing in rugs with non-skid backing. Note that rugs are the leading cause of falls at the home. As a rule of thumb, try to keep the living space as clutter-free as possible.
It’s not uncommon for Alzheimer’s patients to roll out of bed in their sleep. If it has happened to them, invest in bed rails that aren’t an entrapment risk. They can be conveniently installed on any bed size and serve as a barrier to prevent them from falling out of the bed. They can be used as a handhold which makes getting into and out of the bed safer and more comfortable. One caveat though, avoid using these rails as restraints because the patient might try and climb over the rails and seriously injure themselves.
In the same vein, you can have a walk-in bathtub installed but if you’re on a tight budget, a bath lift can be an equally elegant but more economical solution. You can also prevent falls and slips by installing grab bars in the bathroom. Non-skid adhesives can also be used in the bathtub and the shower to prevent slips. You can cover the slick tile floor with a wall-to-wall carpet.
More tips on bathroom safety
To prevent scalding, keep the temperature of your water heater below 120 degrees (that’s almost 50 C) or fit the faucet out with a single knob as opposed to the twin mechanism used for mixing hot and cold water. Speaking of faucets, you can cover them with a rubber foam so they don’t hurt themselves during an accident. These rubber covers are often use for child-proofing the faucets. In any case, 120 degrees won’t scald, even without the addition of cold water but it feels warm enough for bathing and showering.
As touched on above, Alzheimer’s patients can easily become disoriented and in that state, they might lock themselves inside the bathroom. You can address this problem by removing the locks on the bathroom door. The same is true for the main entrance to the house, so it’s a good idea to have a duplicate key to the door. If their condition has worsened to a severe degree, never leave your loved one alone in the bathroom.
Unfortunately, tripping hazards aren’t the only household hazards that you need to worry about. There are several other hazards that might require your attention. Start by installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home and keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, where it’s easily accessible. Test the detectors once every month and make sure that you replace the batteries with fresh ones at least once a year. Do an annual check for the fire extinguisher ‘charge’ as well.
You need to restrict their access to cabinets or drawers which contain your cleaning supplies, compact electrical appliances, sharp tools, medications, and fire hazards. Lock away electric blankets and heating pads if you use them.
Install hidden safety knobs on the stove or a breaker which keeps the stove from turning on because a curious Alzheimer’s patient might try and use the stove and then forget to turn it off. If possible, you can remove knobs from the stove altogether.
Make a habit of unplugging appliances like microwaves when they’re not in use. It’s crucial because liquids inside a microwave can get very hot and certain materials that aren’t supposed to be microwaved can catch fire.
Lock all your guns and ammunition and someplace safe where they are out of your loved one’s reach. Keep the safety locks on and if possible, remove firing pins.
If you have any hazardous plants or plastic decorative fruit lying around, consider removing them because, in poor judgment, the patient may try and eat them. If they have a habit of smoking, don’t leave them unattended when they’re smoking. If you do, you’ll be risking starting a fire. Lock away, ashtrays, lighters, matches, and cigarettes – factors that can trigger an urge to smoke.
Let technology assist you
There are quite a few products you can invest in to help monitor and help your loved one when you’re not available. Alarms and panic buttons should be a priority. You can install alarms on their bed and motion sensors around the room, which can send out an alert as soon as they leave their bed. Motion sensors can detect as soon as they try and open their door and walk close to it. These alarms can be programmed to play a pre-recorded voice note, so you can soothe and calm them with your voice.
There are watches and pendants available in the market that automatically send out an alert to pre-registered numbers or even connect your loved one to an emergency response call center, in case they have fallen and cannot get up. These gadgets often have GPS capabilities that allow you to track them in case they wander out.
As a caregiver, it is your responsibility to make the living space safe for your loved one. It might require a bit of attention to tiny details but a good and practical home safety strategy, once implemented will allow a patient suffering from this cognitive decline to live independently and with as many fewer restrictions as possible.