When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it is hard for both the patient and family members to accept. There are a lot of questions in regards to the patient’s mental status, prognosis, medical care, and what caregivers should expect as the disease progresses. If the loved one wishes to live at home, the caregivers will have to learn how to care for and keep the patient from harm.
How do you keep Alzheimer’s patients safe at home? You, as a caregiver, should do the following:
- Get advice on how to best care for the patient at home from skilled professionals who work with patients who have memory conditions. They can help you prepare a schedule for your loved one’s care.
- Prepare the house in the way you would if you had a toddler: remove sharp objects, chemicals, and medications to a secured and inaccessible area.
- Get locks for doors and sensors for the person’s room that can keep track of their movement and alert you if they try to leave the house.
- Get remote monitors to keep track of the patient in the house and to help with things like administering medications when the need arises.
One of the worse things family members can hear about a parent or loved one is that the person has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. If you have had any friends or acquaintances who cared for someone with Alzheimer’s disease in the past, it can be helpful to reach out to them now. Keeping in touch as you move through the phases of the disease will also be invaluable for both advice and support.
In addition, there are several steps you can take to help your loved one with Alzheimer’s, which we will be sharing with you in this article.
Alzheimer’s Home Safety Checklist
The first thing the caregiver should prepare is a checklist for the patient’s care and safety. This should not be done on your own. Instead, get a professional, such as the patient’s doctor, nurse, or social worker, to help you create the list because there may be things you are not aware of that should be added to it.
You will also want to do some research online to gather information that will help with putting the home safety checklist together. The best website to start with is the Alzheimer’s Association. Their website contains a wealth of information for the patient and their family members on in-home care and information about the items the patient should or shouldn’t have in their homes.
*NOTE – The Alzheimer’s Association has a hotline that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is staffed by professionals who routinely work with Alzheimer’s patients and who can advise you on your home safety checklist, as well as with answering any questions you may have.
After talking with the Alzheimer’s Association, you still will likely want to gather additional information online. There are many websites that have checklists and articles on home care that can help caregivers put a home safety checklists together:
- The Alzheimer’s Organization has an entire In-Home Care page of information for patients and caregivers about items that would be needed to prepare the home for the patient.
- Alzheimer.net Blog has an article on the topic, called Home Safety Checklist for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- The National Institute on Aging also has information and a Home Safety Checklist for Alzheimer’s Disease
Once you have your checklist assembled, you will want to have a family meeting to go over the checklist. Doing this helps family members better understand what you will be up against and lets them see where or when they may be able to help with patient care.
Home Modifications For Alzheimer’s Patients
The caregiver will have to prepare the home for the Alzheimer’s patient in the same way they would prepare a house for toddlers. You certainly should never treat a patient like a toddler, but many of the methods of childproofing a home will prove helpful for helping Alzheimer’s patients safe as well.
- Prevent falls: The first thing in home modification is to prevent falls. The house could be made fall-proof by cleaning up clutter, removing or securing throw rugs, electrical cords, and small furniture pieces or items that would be easy to trip over. Ensure that lighting is adequate so the patient doesn’t trip over something in dim light.
- Secure dangerous items: Next, make a plan to go room by room and secure items the patient could hurt themselves with accidentally, such as bookcases that could be pulled over on top of them. Remove any extra chairs that could actually add to clutter. Place child proof outlet covers over unused outlets to prevent electric shock and child proof cabinet latches to lock up chemicals like dishwasher soap and cleaning supplies.
- Use a monitoring system: A baby monitor with two-way audio, like this Infant Optics DXR-8 Video Baby Monitor, or a similar monitoring system is a great investment for the caregiver. Good monitors like the one we have linked to come with cameras that can tilt or can pan 360 degrees. A baby monitor should be placed in every room, along with motion detectors and door sensors with alarms to keep the patient from leaving the house.
- Bathroom safety: Bathrooms should have non-slip mats on the floor and in the bathtub or shower (read more about non-slip mats in our article). A panic button (like the emergency alert devices from Life Alert) should be placed in the shower in case of slip and fall. If there’s a medicine cabinet in the bathroom, it needs to be locked.
- Kitchen safety: For the kitchen area, all sharp objects must be locked up. Place a camera in the kitchen so you can monitor the room if you are in another area of the house. You don’t want to be caught off guard in case the patient tries to cook and starts a fire. Put locking knob covers on the stove knobs to keep the person from being able to turn on the stove. The cabinets where cleaning supplies are kept should be locked with a child proof cabinet latch, and any mats in the kitchen need to be either removed entirely or be non-slip.
- Locks: All doors in the house must have locks, especially doors that lead to the basement, closets or attic. Any keys to the doors or the car need to be put away where the patient can’t get hold of them
- Garage safety: One type of door that isn’t thought of much but should be considered are car doors. They need to be locked when not in use, especially in the summer, because the patient could get into a hot car and become trapped. In a hot car, death can occur in minutes. This same advice applies to an old, unused refrigerator or freezer that might be in the garage – they must be removed Also, relocate any chemicals (example: coolant for the car or pesticides) to a locking cabinet and get rid of (or lock up) any sharp yard utensils and equipment, like clippers to trim bushes, trowels or spades, chainsaws, and screwdrivers. Again, look at the garage as if you are trying to make it safe for a toddler – think about what they might get into, and then secure that item to keep your loved one with Alzheimer’s safe.
- Keep medications secure: Home safety modification involves medications. Install a locking medicine cabinet or put the medicines away in a locking box. This goes for all medications, including over the counter medicines, such as aspirin or Tylenol, in order to guard against overdoses or the patient taking the wrong medications. If your loved one is in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s, they may feel they can take their prescriptions without a problem. If you want to allow them some freedom, you can let them do this, but stay in the room and watch what they do to make sure they’re taking the medications correctly. For Alzheimer’s patients who are in more advanced stages of the disease, the caregiver needs to take over the job of giving out the prescriptions. Be sure to hand them their medications pill by pill – don’t just give them the entire bottle.
- Secure the home outside as well: Finally, the house needs to be secured outside. Garages and storage sheds need to be locked when no one is using them. If a car is parked outside, it must be locked as well. All objects such as water hoses, potted plants, and toys need to be cleared from driveways, porches, decks, walkways and steps to prevent falls. All dangerous yard work devices (the lawn mower, hedge trimmers, weed whacker, etc) should be locked away so the patient doesn’t get hurt while trying to use them.
Alzheimer’s Temperature Sensitivity
Patients with Alzheimer’s disease are very sensitive to changes in temperature. This is due to the effects that very hot and cold weather have on the body’s ability to regulate itself. For this reason, you will want to be sure their home environment is isn’t too warm or too cold.
According to an article in About Memory website, when people with Alzheimer’s are in conditions where their body temperature drops, it causes their symptoms to get worse. This means they need to stay warm in winter, so check to be sure they are properly dressed for the weather if they go outside. Warm up the car and run the heater before the patient gets in it. Also be careful of using a portable heater inside or of making a fire in the fireplace, as the patient may get burned.
In situations where Alzheimer’s patients are exposed to hot weather, greater effort needs to be made to keep the person cool. Alzheimer’s temperature sensitivity occurs, in part, because older people’s bodies cannot regulate heat and cold as fast as when they were young. Too much heat could cause heat stress, according to an article on the Bright Focus website and, among other things, overheating could alter the effectiveness of medications. Thus, you should limit the patient’s time outdoors, especially in the summer.
Another good tip for the caregiver to know is, when going on trips with the patient, you should prepare in advance for times when your loved one suddenly feels cold or hot. While you might not understand why the person feels uncomfortable, it must be taken seriously to keep them from feeling anxious and becoming agitated.
As a caregiver, you can make the patient’s outing more pleasant by getting their favorite sweater or a comfortable jacket in the winter, or cool light clothing that they could change into if they feel too warm in the summer. This many not happen often, but it’s good to stay on top of things by packing these items, just in case.
Mirrors And Alzheimer’s
In caring for your loved one at home, you should learn about complications they suffer as the disease progresses. One of these difficulties has to do with mirrors. If you haven’t been warned about mirrors before, then you should know that any mirrors in the house might cause the person to become angry or afraid.
As they lose memories, the patient might not recognize their own reflection, so they may think they are looking at an intruder.
To illustrate, a neighbor of my parents had dementia and would get very angry when his wife turned on the television. He was certain that the character on the TV was actually in the room with them and he would become quite agitated. This is the same principle that applies to mirrors! Be watchful because the patient may start swinging at the “intruder” and then get hurt by breaking the mirror.
If the mirrors in the home are causing negative emotions and possible violence, the solution is to cover them up or remove them to a closet that you can keep locked.
If the bathroom medicine cabinet has a mirror, you can cover it up with adhesive wallpaper. Similarly, there are specific paints that can be found in art supply stores that can be brushed onto a glass mirror to cover it up. They can be removed with a straight-edge razor blade if the patient moves out of the home in the future.
Alzheimer’s locks are portable locks that caregivers can use to add a lock to a door that doesn’t already have a lock. I’m talking about modern closet doors, old screen doors, or any other lockless door.
These locks add extra security to keep the patient from wandering away from the house or getting into things that could harm them.
These locks can be purchased online or from hardware stores or a locksmith.