Creating a Safe Environment for a Senior with Dementia

**This guest blog was written and submitted by Lydia Chan from Alzheimer’s Caregiver**

Living at home with Alzheimer’s disease comes with unique challenges. The home has to be adapted for typical changes of aging such as diminished vision and mobility. It also must be changed to meet the evolving needs of a senior with cognitive decline. Making the right changes eases the challenges of living with Alzheimer’s disease and simplifies your job as a caregiver, but the wrong ones could make life much more difficult.

Many of these changes you can do yourself. However, you may want to enlist the help of a professional contractor for certain modifications. Contractors can handle work that’s beyond your ability and get big remodeling jobs done faster to minimize disruption to your home. Carefully vet contractors to find a company you trust and research what you can do to ensure your home improvements go as planned.

Increasing Safety

Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease face the same age-related safety challenges as other older adults, plus a few of their own. Small changes around the house enable your loved one to age-in-place safely and with dignity while also alleviating your worries as a caregiver.

  • Remove area rugs, secure power cords, and clear clutter that poses a fall hazard.
  • Remove low furniture that could be tripped over and pad sharp furniture corners.
  • Increase lighting throughout the home, especially in hallways, bathrooms, entrances, and other dimly-lit areas. Avoid lights that cast shadows or glares.
  • Use nightlights or motion-activated lighting to illuminate the path between the patient’s bedroom and bathroom.
  • Prevent access to dangerous appliances such as the stove and microwave by unplugging or disabling controls when not in use.
  • Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees to prevent scalding.
  • Install grab bars and non-slip mats in bathrooms.
  • Store medications, household cleaners, knives, and other hazardous items and substances in locked areas.

Reducing Stress

Anxiety and agitation are common in Alzheimer’s patients. During the early stages, your loved one may feel extremely frustrated by their loss of ability. As the disease progresses, small changes in the care environment can trigger confusion and emotional distress. Anxiety and agitation add difficulty to the caregiving experience, but they can be managed by maintaining a familiar, easy-to-understand care setting.

  • Establish consistent daily routines. If coordinating care across multiple caregivers, work together to create routines everyone can follow.
  • Outside of necessary changes, avoid reorganizing or redecorating the care environment.
  • Label doors, cabinets, and drawers with signage that indicates what’s on the other side.
  • Lock cabinets, refrigerators, and other storage areas to prevent rummaging, but keep permissible items in accessible areas to allow independence.
  • Accommodate for vision changes with contrasting colors. For example, contrasting colors on furniture, fixtures, and thresholds helps Alzheimer’s patients distinguish items from the surrounding environment.
  • Avoid black and other very dark colors, which may be perceived as holes or voids.

Preventing Wandering

Wandering is a major concern for Alzheimer’s caregivers. Many caregivers feel that they can’t take their eyes off their loved one for fear they’ll wander away, but changes at home can mitigate wandering risk without requiring 24/7 vigilance.

  • Install an alarm system that uses sensors on doors and windows to indicate when an entrance is breached.
  • Install deadbolts near the tops or bottoms of doors where they’re not easily seen.
  • Dress the Alzheimer’s patient with a GPS-tracking device. The best devices feature geofencing capabilities that notify you when a perimeter is crossed.
  • Inform neighbors of your family member’s condition and ask them to contact you if your loved one is out and about alone.

These changes help seniors with Alzheimer’s disease live safely at home for longer. However, there’s a limit to how long patients can thrive in a home setting. When it becomes too much to keep your loved one safe and happy at home, it’s time to look into memory care. Leaving home is never easy, but sometimes it’s the best way to give loved ones the care they deserve.