When your loved one has Alzheimer's, or any sort of dementia, it can become dangerous for her to be at home without some modifications to daily life. After a diagnosis, whether your loved one moves into your home or you are taking care of her from her home, it's important to take into consideration some small things you can do to keep her safe. Here are some ideas of ways you can keep your loved one out of harm's way:
- Don't rely on promises. One mistake many caregivers make is that they beg their loved one to promise not to use the stove, get in the car, wander away, or get into dangerous situations. While both caregivers and care recipients mean well, someone with dementia will promise you, absolutely, that they will not engage in the dangerous activity you've begged them not to. The problem is, they simply do not have the short-term memory any more to remember what they promised, much less to keep that promise. Safety begins with you, and you can modify your home to be safer much more easily than you can modify your loved one's actions.
- Keep outside steps from freezing. Be sure to salt icy steps in winter to prevent slips and falls. You may even want to consider putting in a ramp.
- Prevent wandering. One of the most dangerous side effects of Alzheimer's, wandering is a life or death situation. Make sure to take a look at our guide on wandering prevention.
- Check every room. There may be rooms with dangerous items that you think your loved one won't enter, either because they don't usually enter them or because they “know” they are not supposed to. Don't forget that your loved one doesn't necessarily remember not to go in the garage because of your woodworking tools, you must take measures to prevent your loved one from getting in.
- Take a look outside. Make sure grills are secure and that all matches, lighters and lighter fluid is put away and locked up. Pools can be a safety hazard as well - if you have a pool or hot tub, you'll need a sturdy fence with a lock to protect your loved one. Keep a close eye when the pool is in use.
- Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Just as importantly, make sure they work, and make sure they have sufficient battery. There's no sense in having a detector if the battery is dead! You may also want to program your alarm system to alert the police if there is a fire in the home.
- Don't leave your loved one alone. This can be difficult with the busy lives we lead, but it's critical. Just as your loved one can no longer remember the promises she gave, she no longer remembers some of the things that are dangerous to her. It's especially important not to leave a loved one alone if she can no longer dial 911 or use the phone - it's simply not worth the risk, even when you're “just running out for a few minutes.”
- Store medicine in a locked cabinet. This goes for both prescription and non-prescription drugs.
- Use nightlights. These are great for everywhere from the kitchen to the hallway to the bedroom. If your loved one gets up in the night, she may not remember where the lights are, so nightlights can help reduce the risk of falls in the dark.
- Try using a baby monitor. Place one in your loved one's room and one in yours, so you can hear if she has an emergency.
- Keep a key handy. Your loved one may, either accidentally or on purpose (if she feels threatened), lock you out of the house at some point. Always keep an extra key in your pocket or under the rug outside your front door, so you can let yourself back in.
- Lock up dangerous objects. Kitchen knives, sharp appliances, power tools, and other dangerous items should be locked up. If you own a gun, make sure it is either securely locked or get it completely out of your home.
- Limit cooking. You can either remove the knobs from your oven or use the automatic shut-off switch. At any rate, this is a very dangerous appliance if it's not carefully monitored.
- Remove locks. You may want to remove the locks from the bathroom or bedrooms in your house, because your loved one may accidentally lock himself in and not remember how to open the door. Especially if there is any amount of arthritis or apraxia (degeneration of the part of the brain that commands motor skills), it's a wise idea to remove locks so you're never separated from your loved one.
- Practice shower safety. Make sure you have non-slip coating or pads on your bathtub, and a chair for the shower may help with the bathing process.
- Lock up chemicals. All chemicals, including bleach, cleaning supplies, and any other toxic substance, should be locked away from an individual with Alzheimer's. Better yet, both for your loved one and for the environment, switch to all-natural cleaners that you can make at home using lemons, baking soda and vinegar.
Allowing your loved one to be able to stay in the home is great, as long as it remains safe. As soon as you start seeing warning signs that your loved one may no longer be safe in your home, you must take immediate action to protect her. Sometimes that means hiring 24-hour care to come into the home and make sure she's taken care of, but it might mean getting her settled in a nursing home or Alzheimer's unit where the proper precautions have already been taken to keep residents from harm. Remember, the time to take the necessary steps toward safety is now, not after a catastrophic event. Take these precautions to keep your home safe for your loved one while you can still keep her there.