Home safety is important for everyone — but it carries added significance for caregivers. This is especially true if you’re caring for a loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease in your home. A throw rug or a stray toy on the steps could easily put your loved one at risk of a fall or injury.
Alzheimer’s disease causes a number of changes in the brain and body that may affect safety. Depending on the stage of the disease, these can include:
• Judgment: forgetting how to use household appliances.
• Sense of time and place: getting lost on one’s own street.
• Behavior: becoming easily confused, suspicious or fearful.
• Physical ability: having trouble with balance.
• Senses: experiencing changes in vision, hearing, and sensitivity to temperature or depth perception.
Taking measures to improve safety can prevent injuries and help a person with dementia feel more relaxed, less overwhelmed and maintain his or her independence longer.
Evaluate your environment
Start by thinking about your loved one’s behavior, abilities and health. Can your loved one safely walk up and down stairs? Does he or she tend to wander or get up at night? Has he or she fallen before? Then check each room for potential hazards and make a note of any changes you’d like to make. Keep in mind that changing the environment will likely be more effective than trying to change your loved one’s behavior.
In the kitchen:
Lock up breakable or potentially dangerous supplies. Install childproof latches on cabinets and drawers to limit access to items such as cleaning products, alcohol, matches, knives and scissors.
Prevent access to potentially dangerous appliances. Install safety knobs on the stove to prevent your loved one from turning the stove on or off. Disconnect the garbage disposal.
Remove artificial fruits or vegetables or food-shaped magnets. These objects might appear to be edible.
In the bedroom:
Install a monitoring device. A baby monitor will help you hear if your loved one falls or needs help. This might be particularly helpful if your loved one has advanced dementia.
Take caution when using heating devices. Don’t use portable space heaters in your loved one’s bedroom. If your loved one uses an electric blanket or heating pad, keep the controls out of his or her reach.
In the main living areas:
Avoid clutter. Recycle newspapers and magazines. Keep areas where people walk free of furniture. Keep plastic bags out of reach. Limit knickknacks and other decorative objects. Trim large plants, and remove any plants that might be toxic if eaten.
Mark glass doors, windows and furniture. Place a decal on glass at your loved one’s eye level, if possible, to help him or her see glass panes.
Take caution when using fireplaces. Don’t leave your loved one alone with an open fire in the fireplace.
In the bathroom:
Address slippery surfaces. Place nonskid strips or a mat in the bath tub and shower. Unless the bathroom is carpeted, place nonskid strips on the floor near the bath tub, shower, toilet and sink, too.
Install grab bars. Place grab bars near the toilet and in the bath tub and shower.
Use a faucet cover in the bath tub. A foam rubber faucet cover can help prevent serious injury if your loved one falls in the bath tub.
Install a hand-held shower head. A plastic shower stool also can help make bathing easier.
Lock up potentially hazardous products or electrical appliances. Install childproof latches on bathroom cabinets and drawers to limit access to cleaning products or other potentially dangerous items. Use child-restraint caps on medication containers.
Reduce water temperature. Set the thermostat on your hot water heater to below 120 F (48.9 C).
Remove door locks. Consider removing locks from the bathroom doors to prevent your loved one from accidentally locking himself or herself in.
To ensure safety outdoors:
Check exits. If your loved one uses a walker or wheelchair, make sure he or she will be able to get in and out of your home — when necessary. Consider widening doorways or adding ramps.
Keep steps safe. Mark the edges of steps with bright tape. Keep steps sturdy and textured to prevent falls in wet or icy weather. As an alternative to steps, consider installing a ramp to your home’s entrance.
Restrict access to the pool. If you have a swimming pool or hot tub, surround it with a fence. Install a gate with a lock. Cover the pool or hot tub when it’s not in use.
Avoid clutter. Keep hoses, foliage and other debris off the walkways.
Safely store fuel sources. Remove fuel sources for your grill or other equipment when not in use.
In addition, consider taking these safety precautions throughout your home:
Prepare for emergencies. Display emergency numbers and your home address near all telephones.
Adjust the home phone and voice mail settings. Lower the ringer volume of your home phone to prevent distraction and confusion. Set the answering machine or voice mail to turn on after the lowest number of rings. A person who has Alzheimer’s might be unable to take messages or could become the victim of telephone exploitation.
Use night lights. Place night lights in strategic locations — such as your loved one’s bedroom and the bathroom — to help prevent your loved one from tripping if he or she gets up at night.
Keep stairs safe. Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairs. Make sure stairs have at least one handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps. Cover stairs in carpet or apply nonskid strips. If your loved one has balance problems, consider installing safety gates in front of stairs.
Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Place them in or near the kitchen and all sleeping areas. Check them regularly to make sure they work. If your loved one has vision or hearing problems, consider installing a smoke alarm with a vibrating pad or flashing light.
Check the locks. Make sure there are working locks on all windows and front and back doors. Keep a spare set of house keys outside of the house, in case your loved one locks you out.
Address outlets and electrical cords. Place lamps close to electrical outlets. Cover unused electrical outlets with childproof plugs.
Treat slippery or uneven surfaces. Remove scatter rugs. Place nonskid strips or wax on hardwood and tile floors.
Keep computer equipment out of the way. If you store valuable documents on your computer, protect the files with passwords and create backup files. Consider monitoring your loved one’s computer use.