Unless one has aquaphobia, you might never stop to consider how many daily activities involve water, such as washing dishes, taking a bath or swimming. As we age, we outgrow many of the water safety measures that were in place when younger, whether it was making sure the bath water wasn’t too deep or being supervised while swimming. Yet for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia, their relationship to water changes due to this illness and safety measure are needed.
Water Hazards to Safeguard AgainstDetecting the change in water temperature is something you can do without thinking, but for those with Alzheimer’s they lose this ability according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Consequently, they can become burned when the water is too hot. To prevent burns, it is recommended to set the hot water temperature at 120oF or lower.
Though there hasn’t been definitely research showing a link between Alzheimer’s and an increased risk of drowning, an Internet search does yield stories of dementia patients who wandered away and drowned. Yet your loved one doesn't have to wander away from home to face the hazards of being unsupervised around water. The Alzheimer’s Association says that “even the most basic appliance or household object can become dangers,” including kitchen or bathroom sinks. Because of forgetfulness, seniors may forget to turn off the water, resulting in a flooded bathroom. They may also slip getting into a tub or shower. To safeguard against these scenarios, reducing the water flow will prevent floods while allowing your loved one their independence of washing when they need to. Installing a non-slip mat in the shower or bathtub will prevent falls.
In the state of California, the Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly chapter has a section devoted to requirements which need to be in place to protect and care for seniors with dementia. One of these requirements, statute 87705(e), states that “swimming pools and other bodies of water shall be fenced and in compliance with state and local building codes” and these bodies of water can include fountains. If your loved ones house has an open water feature, either remove it or put safety measures in place so your loved one cannot drown.
While you should take additional safety measures around water if your loved one has Alzheimer's or dementia, that doesn't mean he/she can enjoy its benefits. Next week we'll discuss the benefits of water therapy and swimming.