Millions of aging adults fall in the U.S. each year, and dementia is a cognitive condition that can make it even more tricky to prevent fall-related injuries.
Some caregivers and home health aides are well trained to care for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, a family member or friend who suddenly finds themselves in this position may not know where to start.
In 2020, around 7 million Americans had dementia, and this number is expected to reach 9 million by 2030.
In this article, we cover the home safety tips and guidelines you need to follow to make your home safe for a loved one with dementia.
|What is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer’s? |
Dementia refers to a combination of symptoms, such as declining memory, diminished thinking skills, and behavioral changes. Alzheimer’s, on the other hand, is a disease characterized by dementia symptoms.
Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia — between 60-70% of all people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease — but there are several other types, including vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia (LBD).
How Does Dementia Affect Safety?
Some of the safety tips in our aging-in-place checklist may work for people with dementia, too, but families of loved ones affected by the condition could face additional considerations.
Dementia can have a serious impact on an adult’s safety, especially if they live alone. Here are the reasons why:
This is a common symptom of dementia. People with memory loss associated with dementia may exhibit one or more of the following:
- Short-term memory loss, i.e. not being able to recall recent events or conversations.
- Forgetting the names of people or objects.
- Getting lost or losing items.
- Forgetting how to do routine tasks, like driving a car.
- Not being able to recognize faces.
- Not being able to use household appliances.
- Failing to remember appointments.
Not being able to focus for sustained periods of time is common with dementia. If you try to tell someone a story or explain something to them, they may not be able to follow what you’re saying, or even respond.
A loved one with dementia may be limited to performing only basic tasks, and they may exhibit more frustration and poor judgment as their condition worsens.
Lapses in memory, and the inability to recognize people or understand questions are common dementia symptoms that will intensify over time. Even the simplest tasks — like eating and drinking — may become challenging for people with dementia.
Struggling with balance
People with dementia may experience issues with their balance. Dementia makes an older adult four to five times more likely to fall than someone who does not have cognitive impairments.
Impaired depth perception
The ability to perceive depth is what keeps us from bumping into objects and people while we are moving. Dementia affects the ability to tell the difference between flat and raised surfaces and to judge the distances between objects.
Impaired depth perception affects the balance of older adults who are already more likely to fall due to factors like age and decreased strength.
What Can I Do to Make My Home Safer for People with Dementia?
So let’s imagine your mother or father has recently suffered a fall and is not able to live on their own anymore. You have offered to become their primary caregiver, someone who can protect them against safety hazards and ensure help is always available.
However, a home that is safe for you might not be safe for someone living with dementia.
Cords in the kitchne, throw rugs, dim lighting, and cabinets without locks are all potentially dangerous items for someone with dementia.
It can feel overwhelming to care for a parent or loved one with cognitive impairment, but a few strategic changes can make a world of difference. Here’s how you can ensure your home is safe for a loved one with dementia:
Assess your living space
Do a walk-through of your house or your parents’ home to determine where the safety hazards lie.
While it is not advisable for people with dementia to live on their own, if your parents are still experiencing mild symptoms, they may be able to age in place with support.
If you require help identifying issues or determining the care plan for someone with dementia, you can contact the Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Care Coordination Program.
They will help you to understand the needs of your loved one and to prepare your home to take care of them. You can fill out the online form, and someone will contact you. Here are some things you can include in your home safety checklist:
Poor balance, a loss of depth perception, and lapses in concentration and memory can make staircases difficult for people with dementia to navigate.
To make the stairs safer, you could:
- Install adequate lighting on the staircase — make sure there are night lights, too.
- Ensure that the handrails are sturdy.
- Install grab bars on the other side of the stairs (so there’s support on either side).
- Eliminate safety hazards — toys, shoes, etc. — from the stairs.
High-traffic rooms or spaces
Think about all the spaces where your loved one will spend most of their time. Do a thorough examination of each room and ensure that all these places are dementia-proof.
Bathroom: Unless someone is bedridden, they’ll need access to the bathroom in your house.
Make sure that the light switches are easy to reach — or even install motion-activated lights. Also, install a raised toilet seat with grab bars near it.
Ensure that medications and cleaning supplies are in a locked cabinet.
A walk-in shower with grab bars will help ensure a safer bathing experience. Invest in a shower chair for extra comfort and safety.
Tip: Buy a commode chair if your loved one has mobility issues or struggles to get to the bathroom at night.
Bedroom: Keep everything minimalistic and clutter-free. Avoid busy patterns on the sheets, curtains, and wallpaper. This can confuse or disorientate someone with dementia.
Place stickers or decals on large glass doors or windows so that they don’t appear as open spaces; and avoid mirror-effects that can further distort reality.
Remove swivel chairs that can shift out from under people with poor balance.
Keep a smartphone or medical alert device in the room so they can call for help if required.
Wires and extension cords should be tucked away, and hazards like throw rugs should be removed from the room.
Anything that could potentially clutter the room should be removed.
Living room/hallways: Replace loose rugs with wall-to-wall carpeting. Install motion-activated lights — especially in hallways that might have to be used at night when visibility is low and someone might not find the light switch.
Kitchen: Sharp objects and electrical appliances should be stowed safely in lockable drawers and cupboards to avoid injuries.
Ensure that cupboards are low enough to reach without the need for a stool or ladder.
Store medications, cleaning products, and alcohol out of reach.
Use anti-scald faucets to control hot and cold water — this will prevent burns as people with dementia don’t always sense temperature changes.
Fall prevention should be a major priority in your home safety checklist. Each time an older person falls, their chances increase of falling again — so falls should be avoided wherever possible.
This goes beyond merely tidying up.
Any potentially dangerous items should be removed from the living quarters and placed in a secure part of the house — a room or an area that the person you’re caring for won’t have access to.
Invest in a medical alert device
A fall prevention strategy doesn’t always work. Accidents happen, and when they do, you’ll want to be prepared.
A medical alert device can help. It’s faster and more reliable than a smartphone, as it allows people with dementia to press a single button to connect to emergency services or caregivers.
Visit LogicMark’s homepage and click on the blue “TAKE THE QUIZ” button, then answer a few simple questions to learn which medical alert device is best for your loved one.
To learn more about assistive technology for people with dementia, take a look at this article.
Invest in smart home devices
From cameras, lights, and locks, to video doorbells and pet feeders — almost everything in your home can now be automated.
You can use smart technology to care for your parent with dementia even if you’re in another state. For example, the ability to lock and unlock doors and cabinets remotely can save you time and give you peace of mind.
Learn more about these new tools that can help you keep your aging loved ones safe.
Where Can I Learn More about Dementia and Home Safety?
Being a caregiver isn’t easy. If your parent has dementia, you won’t always know what to do. That’s where LogicMark can help. Contact us to learn how we can help make your journey easier.