By Lisa M. Petsche
Over time, Alzheimer’s disease results in mental, emotional, behavioral and physical changes. These may include memory loss, altered perception, impaired judgment, disorientation to time and place, constant movement, wandering away from home and becoming lost, rummaging, behaving in ways that don’t appear to make sense, altered sleep patterns, paranoia, verbal and physical aggression, decreased muscle strength and a tendency to fall.
A variety of safety issues consequently arise in caring for someone with this disease. Although many Alzheimer behaviors don’t respond to medication, caregivers can adapt the home environment to discourage them or minimize the associated risks. The following tips constitute a good start.
- Ensure your loved one has a pair of non-skid slippers or shoes that fit snugly and offer good support.
- Ensure throw rugs and scatter mats have a non-skid backing. Better yet, remove them.
- Keep walkways clear of electrical and telephone cords.
- Eliminate clutter, including excess furnishings.
- Use night-lights in rooms and hallways.
- Ask the doctor or pharmacist to review your loved one’s medications, since drowsiness or dizziness can sometimes be side effects.
- In the kitchen: Keep frequently used dishes and pantry items within easy reach.
- In the bedroom: Ensure there’s a lamp within reach of the bed, and a clear path from bed to bathroom.
- In the bathroom: Have grab bars installed by the toilet and in the bathtub or shower area. Get a rubber mat for the tub/shower, a bath seat or shower chair, a hand-held shower head and a non-skid floor mat.
- In stairwells: Ensure steps are in good repair, have a non-skid surface and are free of clutter. Handrails are a must, as is sufficient lighting.
Other safety strategies
- Kitchen: Remove the knobs from the stove and store them in a safe place. Put away small appliances when not in use. Unplug appliances that are too big to store, such as the microwave oven. Lock up scissors, knives, corkscrews and any other dangerous implements. Buy break-resistant dishes.
- Bathroom: Store hair dryers and electric razors in another room, to minimize the risk of electric shock. Secure the medicine cabinet or store medications elsewhere in a locked box. Remove cleaning supplies or lock them up, too. Remove or disable the door lock to prevent your loved one from locking himself in.
- Use childproofing safety devices, such as drawer locks, door knob covers and electrical outlet covers.
- Put away valuables such as china and figurines, and other breakable items. Get rid of anything inedible that resembles food.
- Always supervise the use of electrical items.
- Never leave your loved one alone in a room where a wood fireplace or candles are burning.
- Lock up cigarettes, matches and lighters, as well as alcohol. Always supervise smoking.
- Administer medications, ensuring your loved one takes, and swallows, all pills provided.
- Install extra locks on exterior doors, to make it hard to get out; or, get door alarms installed.
- Keep a spare key hidden outside, in case your loved one locks you out of the house.
- Get a portable phone so you can supervise your loved one while taking and making calls.
- Turn down the temperature on your hot water heater, to avoid scalding accidents.
- Apply decorative window clings to patio and storm doors and picture windows, so your loved one doesn’t walk into them.
- Lock up dangerous substances and equipment, including firearms or other weapons, flammable and poisonous products, tools and machinery. Get rid of poisonous plants. Keep car keys hidden away.
- Ensure close supervision outdoors at all times.
- Register your loved one with Safe Return, a national, government-funded program of the Alzheimer’s Association that aids in the identification and safe, quick return of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias that become lost. For more information or to register, contact the local chapter or go online to www.alz.org/Services/SafeReturn.asp.
- Keep handy a list of emergency phone numbers, including the nationwide Poison Control Help Line (1-800-222-1222).
Lisa M. Petsche is a social worker and a freelance writer specializing in boomer and senior issues.