Preparing your home for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can seem difficult and overwhelming. Most families like to keep their loved ones at home as long as possible, to give them a sense of familiarity and safety. Because safety is so important for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, safeguarding your home is an extremely important step to take, even though it feels daunting. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your home is a safe place for your loved ones:
- Start with a plan – the first step is always walking through your home and looking for hazardous or dangerous areas or items. Try to see it through the eyes of someone with dementia and look out for trouble spots or areas that need to be re-worked.
- Display emergency numbers clearly on the refrigerator or front door or somewhere you know your loved one will be able to see them.
- Make sure you have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your house.
- Keep a spare key outside of the house somewhere in case the person with Alzheimer’s locks you out of the house.
- Keep things simple – the less clutter you have in your home the better. Alzheimer’s patients do much better in simple environments with not too much to look at, maneuver around, deal with, etc. Make sure there are clear and direct paths from one room to another so they can get around easily and without potential landmines. For example, throw rugs are dangerous and a tripping-hazard.
- Keep all outlets covered up with childproof covers. And make sure any cords or plugs are out of the way and can’t be tripped over.
- Place labels or tape around any heating devices so your loved one knows not to touch or go near it.
- Use labels – labeling rooms/drawers/items with pictures will help your loved one find their way around. You could label the glasses cupboard with a picture of a glass, or hang a sign above the bathroom with a picture of a toilet.
- Keep the garage safe – garages can be hazardous areas, but if you know how to keep your storage managed well, you can keep this as a safe room. Overhead garage storage racks are one of the best ways to keep your belongings organized and off the floor, so there are no tripping hazards or the risk of your loved one getting into something dangerous.
- Keep medicines, cleaners, or anything potentially poisonous in a locked cabinet out of the way of easy access.
- Windows and doors – make sure all windows and doors have safe screens and locks on them. Install a device that only allows a window to be opened up so far. You may want to install locks or alarms on doors that lead to danger zones or outside.
- Keep your outdoor area safe – this may mean putting rails next to any stairs, ensuring that steps aren’t slippery, keeping outdoor gates locked and with some kind of alarm system in case your loved one attempts to leave, and making sure all fountains or pools are walled off and locked. Be aware of your neighbors and what is going on around where you live.
This list may feel overwhelming to you, but the best thing to do is just take it a room at a time. Spend one day working on one room and then move on to the next. Look at each room with new eyes and ask yourself: what in this room could even REMOTELY be dangerous? Because this is so much work, you may want to enlist the help of some family and friends and make it a renovating week or month. And be aware of how you are communicating all of this to your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Don’t talk down to them or patronize them. If they ask, explain clearly and directly what you are doing and why. They may not like it, but everyone knows it’s what’s best and safest in the end that matters. Take a deep breath, turn on some good music, and get ready to do some work!