When evaluating safety around the home, keep in mind that dementia behaviors are unpredictable. Prevention should be one of your primary concerns. Adapt the home so danger is minimized while still allowing the elder to be as independent as possible. This helps control agitation.
Wandering is a serious risk. As a senior with Alzheimer’s wanders aimlessly, he or she may fail to sense temperature extremes, moving vehicles and other dangers. Not everyone with dementia wanders. It is unpredictable who will wander or when. It is our job as caregivers to put security in place so that a person with dementia may pursue the need to wander, if or when that happens.
Below are suggested home modifications to help wandering, confusion, agitation and aggressiveness. All of these are behaviors common to Alzheimer’s disease.
Kitchen-Simple steps like unplugging appliances can eliminate a potential anger. Inserting plastic outlet covers makes it more difficult for the elder to plug the appliance back in. Faucets can be restricted with heavy rubber bands. Remove equipment like knives, can openers, matches, chemicals and decorative items like throw rugs. Install inside locks on drawers and cabinets. Locks on outside doors will keep the elder safely inside the house.
Bathroom-Medicine, razors, soaps and chemicals should be stored and locked in one place. Color-code or label faucets “hot” and “cold.” In the tub/shower area, grab bars, nonskid mats and shower chairs are helpful. Consider posting reminders in the bathroom (such as “FLUSH TOILET” or “EXIT”) and elsewhere around the house.
Living and dining rooms-Simplify the layout of rooms by rearranging furniture. Remove lightweight furniture that a confused elder could move easily. Eliminate obstacles like cords, throw rugs and knickknacks so that the senior can move about freely. It is important to keep the environment uncluttered to reduce confusion and agitation.
Halls and stairways-Address a demented elder’s impaired senses by installing smoke alarms in case he cannot smell smoke himself. Nightlights can help guide the elder. Similarly, dark areas warn him where not to go. In some cases, darkness can “erase” a room or hallway in the mind of a demented person. Darkening areas is one way of detouring a wandering elder. Add color contrast at the edges of stairs to help the elder differentiate between steps. It is possible to successfully care for an elder with dementia at home, as long as the necessary support and supervision are in place.