Individuals with memory loss and confusion are at risk of harming themselves because their judgment is impaired, so dementia safety precautions are vital. They may not remember how to use a band aid, go outside without wearing a winter coat or may eat food that has grown moldy. Individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia begin to require supervision in order to be safe. At the same time certain home adaptations can increase peace of mind for caregivers.
Doing a Home Safety Assessment
Occupational therapists are trained to perform home safety assessments for dementia safety with special attention to factors that might contribute to falls, consuming toxins and injuries from sharp objects or fire. Caregivers should also think about adapting a loved one's home much in the same way parents with young children child proof. Here are some adaptations that I made when my mother was living alone in a Senior Housing building before relocating to an assisted living residence with memory impairment services:
- Removed old newspapers, grocery receipts, magazines, bags and other clutter.
- Removed candles, matches, sharp knives and other dangerous tools.
- Removed toxins including bleach which has a container that looks like a gallon of milk and cough syrup which smells like candy.
- Disabled the microwave and electric stove.
- Provided a shower seat (the apartment already had grab bars).
- Added night lights with sensors that turned them on at night.
- Regularly checked food for freshness.
- Removed small rugs.
Creating a Home Environment that Promotes Independence
The removal of clutter not only increases dementia safety and decreases the chance of fire, but will make it easier for the person to find important items such as keys, eyeglasses and wallet. Fill the refrigerator with only ready to eat foods such as hard boiled eggs, tuna fish sandwiches and cut up vegetables. Technology creates an undue frustration for individuals with memory loss. However, here are a few tips that helped my mother:
- Set the television to her favorite station and tape over all buttons except the on/off switch. Highlight that switch with bright orange nail polish.
- Preset number one on the telephone to dial a "helper" friend or relative. Then highlight the number using nail polish and place a sign next to the phone that says "Push number 1 for help".
- Remove all remote controls
- Buy lamps that go on and off when touched
- Provide a digital clock that includes the date and day of the week. Digital clocks are easier to interpret than face clocks.
Routines and Visual Cues
Individuals with memory loss have a great deal of difficulty learning new tasks. However, they will probably have greater success continuing familiar routines such as putting dishes in the sink after meals or sequencing steps to get dressed. Caregivers should try to maintain the familiar routines as best as possible. Sometimes visual cues such as note next to the sink that says "Use soap" may provide the cue needed to perform a routine action. Laying the towel on the sink counter also prompts the person to use it. Setting up the environment with visual reminders will help the person in the early stages of memory loss to remain as independent as possible.
Written by occupational therapist Barbara Smith, MS, OTR.