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Safety Starts at Home: A Guide for Dementia Parents and Their Caretakers

When a loved one begins to exhibit the first signs of dementia, this can be a scary time for everyone. For the person with dementia, it could mean living in a new and more challenging reality; for the family, a new level of responsibility.

What can be most disconcerting is that your loved one may be in otherwise great physical shape, but when the symptoms of dementia become serious enough, their life will be impacted nonetheless. Here are 10 things to help ensure your parent remains as safe as possible:

1. Regular doctor’s appointments

Whereas your loved one may have only gone to the doctor when something was wrong before, a dementia diagnosis means that their overall health needs to be taken much more seriously. That means scheduling very regular appointments to evaluate both their physical and mental health. The diagnosis may also mean a referral from the primary care physician to a specialist or specialty group focusing on dementia. This may include a neurologist and/or a referral to a Memory Care clinic of some type often through a local hospital offering these services.

The interval of these appointments will depend on the age, overall health, and dementia symptoms of your loved one. These appointments can serve as an absolute baseline to catch any new developments or symptoms of their condition.

2. Assessing, and re-assessing their condition

In addition to the input of doctors, it will be up to you, the family, to gauge how your loved one is managing with their everyday life, because you get to see them in their home environment and probably spend more time with them.

There are various assessments available — we recommend starting with our 5 Minute Home Care Quiz, which will help you score your loved one’s well-being on 6 different parameters and let you know if they might need more help.

3. Decide on the scale of intervention

The assessments above will help you figure out how far your loved one’s dementia has progressed, and this will largely determine what you need to do. In the beginning, your loved one may be affected in a very minor way, exhibiting signs of occasional forgetfulness, which some people have even without dementia.

But as their dementia gets worse you’ll have to add more and more checks and failsafes to keep your loved one as safe as possible.

4. Start with the AARP home safety checklist

This checklist has a number of things you can do to maximize the safety of your loved one at home. It applies to all aging people, and doubly so for those with dementia. On the list, you’ll find ways to safeguard:

  • Steps/Stairways/Walkways
  • Floor Surfaces
  • Driveway and Garage
  • Windows and Doors
  • Appliances / Kitchen / Bath
  • Lighting / Ventilation
  • Electrical Outlets / Switches / Alarms

5. Streamline the home

As confusion begins to grow with the progression of dementia, small things can have a positive or negative impact on the person with dementia’s experience.

For example, lots of clutter can only compound the sense of confusion. Consider doing a major clean-out of the home, leaving clean, clutter-free surfaces and floors that are easy to navigate. However, make sure that you have your loved one’s blessing before getting rid of items that may have practical or emotional significance to them.

Another idea is to focus on the overall decoration — an interior designer will be quick to tell you that certain colors can promote calmness. Busy wallpapers or designs, on the other hand, can lead to anxiety or confusion.

6. Add failsafes at critical junctures

There are really only a few appliances in your home that could easily lead to serious injury as dementia grows. Take these one-by-one to make the home significantly safer for your loved one:

  • Dementia can lead to loss of heat sensitivity, so add temperature-controlled facets that don’t allow your loved one to involuntarily scald himself or herself.
  • Ensure any outlets near a water source are GFCI protected.
  • Ovens can be a major issue. Consider getting one that turns off automatically after sensing a certain period of inactivity.
  • Watch out for microwaves — it’s easy to forget that metal does not belong in them, and that can turn into a major fire hazard. At a certain point, you may have to remove the microwave from your loved one’s home.

7. Keep tabs on all dangerous materials

The best way to do this is to designate just one or two places where you can keep everything that you may not want your loved one to be able to get to especially as the disease progresses: cleaning products, medicines, insecticides, alcohol, and any dangerous tools.

8. Try to prevent falls

This can be one of the hardest things to do house-wide. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Soft wall-to-wall carpeting can really help cut down on the risk of injury in most areas.
  • Anywhere there are hard surfaces, and particularly in the kitchen and bathroom where spills can make things extra slippery, anti-slip mats can make a big difference.
  • Install grab bars in any potentially hard to navigate areas, including bathtubs, toilets, stairways, step-up or step-downs. Think about whether your loved one might need bed rails to help with getting in and out of bed.

9. Don’t forget about the outside

Is your loved one’s yard fenced in? It’s much easier to wander off from a non-fenced yard. Watch out for any clear hazards such as big drop-offs, stairs without railings, and pools.

10. Use technology to your advantage

We live at an amazing time when technology has really made it easier to be “present” even when one is away. These days, you can:

  • Install video feeds in most rooms to keep track of your loved one.
  • Install a tracking app on their phone, or add a device to their keychain, which will make them easier to find if they were to wander off.
  • Get various app integrations that enable you to do many things: check and control the temperature of the house remotely, turn appliances and lights on and off, and even lock and unlock doors as needed.

We hope this list has helped you do a little more planning about keeping your loved one safe through the progression of their dementia symptoms. As a next step, we encourage you to take our 5 Minute Home Care Quiz!

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