Taking on the caregiver role for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease can be rewarding as you overcome problems and find solutions to issues. At the same time, though, it's challenging and frustrating. As the disease progresses, your loved one's abilities will change, and maintaining a safe and supportive home environment to ensure that they remain safe and healthy will become an increasingly important concern. The following home safety checklist will help you identify potential dangers and prevent injuries to your loved one.
First, you should know the basics: Alzheimer's disease is an irreversible illness that changes the brain. It causes difficulty with remembering, thinking, using good judgment, caring for oneself, and eventually performing simple tasks, which highlights why the approximately 5.1 million Americans over age 65 living with Alzheimer's today need help with everyday care.
Furthermore, resultant cognitive impairment can cause issues with judgment and sense of time and place, as well as behavioral changes such as confusion, suspicion, and fear. Cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer's may also cause physical deconditioning, decreased balance, and changes in gait, hearing, and temperature sensitivity. Potential visual misperception also increases the chance of falls.
General Tips for a Safe Home
While all this information is alarming, you'll create as safe an atmosphere as possible for your loved one if you use due diligence. Keep in mind these general tips as you vet and make changes to their residence:
- Assess the home by examining it through your Alzheimer's relative's eyes. You'll want to identify safety risks and potentially hazardous objects, particularly in areas such as the kitchen, bathroom, garage, and basement.
- Create a home that encourages independence, social interaction, and functional activities, thereby ensuring that the space supports your loved one's changing needs.
- Maintain a current list of emergency phone numbers and addresses, and make sure they are in a prominent location.
Now let's get into room-by-room needs to construct a complete home safety checklist, with assists from the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institutes of Health.
- Use childproof locks and doorknobs to limit access to storage areas for knives and appliances, in addition to cleaning fluids and other toxic products.
- Disconnect the electricity to the garbage disposal.
- Use automatic shut-off devices for coffeemakers, irons, and toaster ovens, and disconnect or remove larger appliances such as the microwave and oven.
- Remove knobs from the stove.
- Store or remove small appliances such as the toaster and blender.
- Ensure that the fire extinguisher is clearly visible and within reach.
- Clean out the refrigerator of rotting or spoiled food regularly.
- Set the maximum water temperature at 120 degrees or less to prevent burns.
- Remove bathroom door locks.
- In medicine cabinets, lock up or remove dangerous items.
- Install grab bars in contrasting colors within the bathtub or shower area, as well as beside the commode, to decrease fall risk.
- Add nonslip adhesive strips to the tub floor and other surfaces to prevent slips.
- Supervise the use of personal care items such as hair dryers, curling irons, and razors.
- Avoid using heating devices that could cause overheating or burns, including heating pads and electric blankets.
- Install night-lights in the bedroom and bathroom to help light the path at night.
- Install a bed grab bar if your loved one has problems getting out of bed.
- Keep stairways well lit, uncluttered, and unobstructed.
- Repair and routinely check stairs and hand railings for safety issues.
- Install continuous handrails in contrasting colors for all stairways.
Throughout the Home
- Move furniture or other obstructions that block walking paths and create space for a wheelchair or walker.
- Remove loose throw rugs and carpeting.
- Ensure doorways, stairways, and hallways are well lit.
- Remove poisonous houseplants.
- Apply window clings to make large windows and sliding glass doors more visible.
- Install deadbolts or disguise outdoor locks to prevent wandering outdoors.
- Consider senior medical alarm monitoring.
Garage and Outdoors
- Lock up hand and power tools.
- Limit access to large equipment.
- Lock up or remove poisonous chemicals, such as paints, fertilizers, and gasoline.
- Lock fence gates.
- Limit access to car keys.
This list of tasks may seem overwhelming, but don't treat it as something you need to complete entirely or right away. Gauge your loved one's mobility, mental state, and favorite activities as you vet their home in general. You can then determine what will work best for them right now versus what you can do later.