A dementia diagnosis can bring confusion and worry to any caregiver, and it can be hard to know where to start when it comes to keeping your loved one safe and healthy.
The good news is creating a safe, comforting space for your loved one doesn’t have to be overwhelming—and it doesn’t have to be done all at once.
Before making any modifications to the senior’s home, take some time to assess the things that are currently most troublesome. Safety should always be the top priority.
“Safety first – along with working to identify a skilled home health care provider – is something to consider early on,” said Cleamon Moorer Jr., owner of American Advantage Home Care.
Broaching the subject
While your first priority is the safety of the senior with dementia, it’s important to include the senior in the process. Don’t make large changes to their living space without including them in the discussion.
Moorer said it’s important to address the senior in an adult-to-adult manner and not make the senior feel like a child in the discussion.
“Never lead with, ‘We need to make these changes because you can’t…’ Keep ‘can’t’ out of the conversation and focus on how changes will improve experiences for everyone,” he said. “This type of approach will help your loved one to maintain a sense of efficacy and confidence in themselves and their capabilities. They will most likely not think that you are taking away their independence and rights.”
Address immediate safety concerns first. This can include both large and small projects. Keep in mind not every dementia diagnosis is the same and some seniors will need more home modifications than others.
Choose the items that are of the most concern and do those first. For example, if the senior you care for has left the stove on before, securing appliances should be at the top of the list.
When thinking about safety, consider making some of these modifications:
- Secure all entrances and exits to the home. “It is easy for patients suffering from dementia to wander or roam and be confused about their whereabouts,” Moorer said. This may include adding additional locks and/or sensors to all windows and doors. If the senior lives in a multi-story home, consider adding safety bars to upper story windows.
- Remove dangerous tools and appliances from the senior’s home or keep them in a locked cabinet.
- Remove firearms from the home.
- Identify and remove any tripping hazards, and arrange the furniture in a familiar pattern that doesn’t impede traffic flow through the home.
- Add nonskid strips to stairs, and tape or paint the edges of stairs to make them easier to see.
- Remove the knobs from the stove if you’re worried about the senior leaving it on. Many smart appliances now have a setting that will automatically shut off the appliance after a certain amount of time. This option allows the senior to still maintain some independence without the worry of an appliance creating a disaster if left on.
- Lower the hot water temperature to avoid burns, and add timers to thermostats to avoid issues from excessive heat or cold.
- Add a piece of reflective tape to glass doors so they’re easier to see.
- If needed, install ramps at the entrances to the home for improved access. You may also want to consider adding grab bars throughout the house to reduce the chances of a fall.
- Install locks on medicine cabinets and areas where cleaners are kept.
- Install remote monitoring systems like motion sensors and cameras.
Improving daily living
Some modifications provide a safer home and give seniors with dementia a better quality of life. Consider some of these modifications to help seniors with activities of daily living.
- Label everything, especially in the kitchen. This will help seniors avoid confusion and keep them from making a possibly deadly mistake.
- Post important phone numbers in a prominent space to make it easy for the senior to contact someone for help.
- Keep things simple. Keep important items like hearing aids and eyeglasses in the same place. Consider using tracking devices like Apple Airtags on easy-to-lose items. Limit the items in the kitchen to avoid confusion. “Familiarity and repetition is very important,” Moorer said.
- Post pictures of family members, events and accomplishments throughout the home to help trigger memories.
- Place a calendar in a prominent place, and mark off the days to help keep the older adult oriented.
- Post directional signs or use reflective tape to point the way to different rooms if the senior is easily disoriented.
Prioritize the tasks
While the list of things to do to keep seniors with dementia safe and as independent as possible can seem overwhelming, Moorer recommends prioritizing them as follows:
- Safeguard doors and windows.
- Reduce clutter and trip hazards.
- Add remote monitoring systems, cameras and sensors.
- Program appliances (e.g., thermostats, AC units and furnaces).
- Label and organize common areas like bathrooms and kitchens.
Once the initial modifications are made, take the time to reevaluate as the senior’s disease progresses. Modifications that may not be necessary at the time of the initial diagnosis may be required as time passes.
A dementia diagnosis can seem daunting, but you can help your senior stay in their home as long as possible with a few modifications.