Is Your Home Safe? How to Dementia-Proof Your Home

Lock file0001194782568All new parents know how important it is to childproof their home when the little one begins crawling. Children are filled with curiosity and don’t have any concept of danger. In many ways, a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia has a similar mindset. They may no longer be able to understand or appreciate the dangers that linger in every home or may become easily confused, which can lead to injury. If you are bringing a parent or loved one with dementia to live with you, it’s time to dementia-proof your home. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Perform a walk-through – Before your loved one arrives (if possible), give yourself a day to do a slow walk-through of the home. Think about any and all ways that someone could injure themselves. Are the stairs to your basement extra steep? Do you have medications and vitamins easily accessible in your medicine cabinet? Jot down notes and make a commitment to address each area.
  2. Simplify Your Home and Create Walking Paths – Individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia can easily become overwhelmed with too much stimuli. They may also experience poor balance as a natural result of aging or the medications they take. Start your dementia-proofing by creating clear, simple walking paths between the rooms of your home. Move or eliminate furniture that blocks the path. Remove breakable items from shelves and tables. Get rid of unnecessary clutter that a person could trip over. Make each room as simple and comfortable as possible.
  3. Create “Off Limits” Areas – Certain areas of the house will present greater dangers than others. For example, if you worry that your loved one may fall and trip on the steep basement stairs, consider making that room “Off Limits.” You may also want to make the garage, a shed with tools and chemicals, an attic, and even private bedrooms off limits. Simple locking mechanisms can ensure that these areas stay closed off to your loved one.
  4. Bathroom and Kitchen – Of all the rooms in the house, the bathroom and kitchen present a lot of unique dangers. In both rooms, lock away all medicines, cleaning supplies, and anything else that can cause harm. That even includes vitamins! Put down mats near sinks and the tub to absorb water and add traction to the floor to prevent slips. In the bathroom, make sure you lock away all electric items. You may also want to consider installing:
  • Grab bars
  • A shower seat
  • A walk-in shower
  • A raised toilet

In the kitchen, you can hide or lock away the knobs to the stove and lock the oven with a special device for that purpose. If your loved one starts eating bad foods or eating at inappropriate times during the day, you can even add a lock to the fridge. Remove sharp knives and scissors from easy reach. To help your loved one avoid confusion, consider adding large signs or images on each drawer or cabinet showing what is inside.

  1. Review Lighting – Some individuals with Alzheimer’s and dementia have difficulty in the evening. (We’ve previously written about trouble with sundowning.) One reason may have to do with the fact that shadows can cause confusion. You can help avoid these triggers by making sure your home is well lit in the evening. More light can also reduce the risk of falls.
  2. Doors and Windows – Wandering is a serious concern for many with dementia or Alzheimer’s. You can help prevent a scary emergency by keeping doors and windows locked and by adding motion alarms to them so that you’ll know right away if someone opens them. You may even want to add motion alarms to doors within the house that lead to off limits areas.
  3. Other Considerations – Every home and every individual is different, which is why it is important for you to perform a walk-through to identify unique areas that might represent a danger in your home. For example, you’ll want to lock up or even get rid of firearms. If the sight of keys triggers a desire to drive in your loved one, you may want to begin putting them out of sight rather than hanging them on a key hook. Perform a walk-through of your home every six months or so to see if new changes need to be made as the disease progresses.
  4. Your Safe Zone – Finally, you should consider creating a place within your home that is all your own. This should be a peaceful room where you can relax and enjoy some “you” time. Maybe that is your home office, craft room, the garage, or outside in your garden. Wherever it is, give yourself permission to take “time off” regularly.

Dementia-proofing your home can help your loved one avoid accidents, injuries, and triggers, but no plan is bulletproof. As the dementia progresses, you will have to provide more and more oversight of your loved one and may need to restrict their access to more areas of the home. Eventually, if you feel that you cannot keep your loved one safe, it may be time to discuss moving them into a memory care facility.

At Sunshine Care, our facility was designed specifically to create a safe, comfortable, and soothing environment for our residents. If you live in the Poway or San Diego County area, please contact us to schedule a tour or come attend our next Caregiver Support Group, which is free and open to the public.

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