What changes should be made to create a safer home for a person with Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer’s disease affects a person’s memory, causes confusion, impairs sound decision-making, causes balance problems, and leads to some behavior and personality changes.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease worsen over time. Each individual’s course of disease is different. However, one thing is for certain – the living space of a person with Alzheimer’s disease can be a dangerous place.

Below are some tips for creating a safer living environment for a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Not all of these tips need to be acted upon immediately. Reassess your loved one often and take any additional precautions as you see changes in your loved one’s abilities and behavior.

General safety tips

  • Place a list of emergency numbers (police, fire, poison control, doctors, family contacts, and a neighbor's phone number) near all phones. Also post this list on the refrigerator door.
  • Install handrails on all stairways. Add brightly colored tape or safety grip strips to the edges of steps so they can be more easily seen.
  • Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Smoke detectors should be placed near the kitchen and in all bedrooms. Check to make sure devices are working properly; change batteries at least twice a year.
  • Have a fire extinguisher available. Make sure it is in good working order.
  • Consider purchasing an emergency medical alert or personal alarm system. Professional systems link directly to a representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If a person with Alzheimer’s disease has an immediate medical problem, he or she simply pushes a button on a special device worn around the wrist or neck, and a signal for help is immediately sent.
  • Keep tools/power tools, chemicals, cleaning and laundry supplies, matches/lighters and sharp objects (for example knives, scissors) out of sight and securely stored.
  • Remove locks from doors of interior rooms so the person with Alzheimer’s disease cannot get trapped inside.
  • Remove any weapons from the home.

Kitchen safety

  • Disable appliances that may pose a hazard. For example, consider unplugging the stove or removing the on/off knobs of various appliances.
  • Disconnect the garbage disposal.
  • Mark purchase dates on foods. Throw away expired food products.
  • Remove fake fruit and vegetable decorations that could be mistaken as edible.

Bathroom safety

  • Install grab bars in the shower and next to the toilet to provide additional support.
  • Install a fold-down shower seat or place a freestanding shower seat in the shower or tub.
  • Apply non-slip floor mats and slip-resistant appliqués or tiles in the shower or tub.

Bedroom safety

  • Avoid the use of space heaters and electric blankets; these are fire hazards.

Living room safety

  • Simplify furniture arrangements. Make it as easy as possible for the person with Alzheimer's disease to move through areas.
  • Remove objects, such as a loose throw rug, smaller objects and general clutter, which could pose a tripping hazard.
  • Keep lamp cords and computer cords out of the walking areas. Limit the use of extension cords.
  • Ideally, chairs should have arm rests to make sitting down and standing up safer and easier. Secure large pieces of furniture, such as cabinets, dressers, and large TVs to prevent them from tipping.

Lighting

  • Add extra lighting to hallways, top and bottom of stairs, main entrance, and bedroom and bathrooms. As people get older, they require two to three times the amount of light they needed when they were younger.
  • Keep nightlights in bathrooms, bedrooms and kitchen.

Medications

  • Keep prescription and over-the-counter medications in a locked drawer or cabinet.
  • Use a pill organizer to help ensure that the medications are taken exactly as prescribed.

Driving

  • Research suggests that even mild Alzheimer's disease is associated with an increased risk of accidents. It is important to check with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to learn the procedure for evaluating the patient's driving ability. Many areas will perform a thorough “driver safety evaluation” to determine if it is safe for the person to continue to drive. If there is any impairment in vision, depth perception or judgment, the person with Alzheimer's disease should not be driving.

Tips for people who wander

  • Take a photo of your loved one that could be used if he or she were to wander.
  • Have your loved one wear a medical alert bracelet or locket with their name, address and contact numbers.
  • Consider using a global positioning system (GPS) device to help locate a wandering loved one. (For more information on GPS devices, see the resource section.)
  • Install locks either high or low (out of the normal sight lines) to make it more difficult for a person to wander away from home.
  • Add devices to windows and doors that sound an alarm when opened. Some simple devices can be found at local home improvement stores.

Other tips for creating a calm and peaceful living environment

  • Choose contrasting colors for walls and floors. Select soothing “spa-like” colors, such as seafoam green, sand, cool creams, blues and grays, soft whites, soft pink, or lavender.
  • If your loved one likes scents, choose fragrances that are relaxing, such as lavender, eucalyptus, vanilla, jasmine or other scents that bring on pleasant memories.
  • Keep photos around that are uplifting.
  • Play music that your loved one enjoys.
  • Use signs or simple pictures to label items or explain how to do something. Use signs or labels to mark areas of potential danger -- for example, add labels “hot” and “cold” to water faucet handles; add the label “don’t touch” or “hot” to identify items such as toasters, oven and iron.
  • Check the temperature on the water heater. Set no higher than 120 degrees Farenheit to prevent burns.
  • Make sure the temperature and climate in the living area are comfortable.
  • Don’t overstimulate the patient’s senses. Limit the number of people who visit at any one time. Close windows if outside noise is too loud. Limit the number of sound sources playing at the same time (don’t have TV, radio, and music on at the same time) and keep the volume only as high as needed to comfortably hear.

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