Home safety tips: Preparing for Alzheimer's caregiving
Home safety is important for everyone, but this is especially true if you're caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. A throw rug or a stray toy on the steps could easily cause a fall or injury.
To prevent stressful and dangerous situations, consider these home safety tips for caregivers. Periodically, it might be helpful to request a physical therapy referral for a home safety evaluation.
Evaluating home safety
Start by thinking about the behavior, abilities and health of the person with dementia. Can the person safely use stairs? Does he or she wander or get up at night? Has he or she fallen before?
Then check each room for potential hazards and make a note of changes you'd like to make. Keep in mind that changing the environment will likely be more effective than trying to change the person's behavior. Changes in abilities need to be reevaluated periodically as the disease advances.
Bathroom safety tips
In the bathroom:
- Install a shower chair and grab bars. Place grab bars near the toilet, near the bathtub and in the shower. A hand-held shower head also might be useful.
- Address slippery surfaces. Place nonskid strips or a mat in the bathtub and shower. Unless the bathroom is carpeted, place nonskid strips on the floor near the bathtub, shower, toilet and sink, too.
- Use a faucet cover in the bathtub. A foam rubber faucet cover can help prevent serious injury if the person with dementia falls in the bathtub.
- Lock up potentially hazardous products or electrical appliances. Install childproof latches on cabinets and drawers to limit access to potentially dangerous items. Use child-restraint caps on medication containers.
- Reduce water temperature. Set the thermostat on your hot water heater to below 120 F (48.9 C).
- Remove door locks. Consider removing locks from the bathroom doors to prevent the person from accidentally locking himself or herself in.
Kitchen safety tips
In the kitchen:
- Prevent access to potentially dangerous appliances. Install safety knobs on the stove to prevent the person with dementia from turning the stove on or off. Disconnect the garbage disposal.
- Remove artificial fruits or vegetables or food-shaped magnets. These objects might appear to be edible.
- Lock up breakable or potentially dangerous supplies. Install childproof latches on cabinets and drawers to limit access to items such as cleaning products, alcohol, matches, knives, scissors and even plastic bags.
Bedroom safety tips
In the bedroom:
- Install a monitoring device. A baby monitor will help you hear if the person with dementia needs help. This might be particularly helpful if he or she has advanced dementia.
- Take caution when using heating devices. Don't use portable space heaters in the person's bedroom. If electric blankets or heating pads are used, keep the controls out of reach.
If the person with dementia tends to get up at night to drink, eat or use the bathroom, try to meet these needs before he or she goes to bed.
Living room safety tips
In the main living areas:
- Avoid clutter. Recycle newspapers and magazines. Keep areas where people walk free of furniture and cords. Keep plastic bags out of reach. Limit decorative objects. Trim large plants, and remove plants that might be toxic if eaten.
- Mark glass doors, windows and furniture. Place a decal on glass at the person's eye level to help him or her see glass panes.
- Take caution when using fireplaces. Don't leave the person with dementia alone with an open fire in the fireplace.
Laundry room safety tips
In the laundry room:
- Lock up potentially hazardous products. Install childproof latches on cabinets where you keep detergent and other potentially hazardous supplies.
- Prevent access to the washer and dryer. Close and latch the doors and lids to the washer and dryer. Consider removing large knobs if the person tries to tamper with the machinery.
If the laundry room has a door, consider keeping it locked.
Garage, shed and basement safety tips
In the garage, shed and basement:
- Lock up potentially dangerous items. Install childproof latches or locks on cabinets where you keep tools, tackle, machines, sporting equipment, paint, fertilizer, gas, cleaning supplies or other toxic materials. Remove all guns or weapons from your home.
- Lock all vehicles. Consider covering or removing vehicles and bikes that aren't frequently used if the person has advanced dementia.
Consider locking the doors to these areas as well.
Outdoor safety tips
To ensure safety outdoors:
- Check exits. If the person with dementia uses a walker or wheelchair, make sure he or she will be able to get in and out of your home — when necessary. Consider widening doorways or adding ramps.
- Keep steps safe. Mark the edges of steps with bright tape. Keep steps sturdy and textured to prevent falls in wet or icy weather.
- Restrict access to the pool. If you have a swimming pool or hot tub, surround it with a fence. Install a gate with a lock. Cover the pool or hot tub when it's not in use.
- Avoid clutter. Keep hoses, foliage and other debris off the walkways.
- Safely store fuel sources. Remove fuel sources for your grill or other equipment when not in use.
Other safety precautions
In addition, consider taking these safety precautions throughout your home:
- Prepare for emergencies. Display emergency numbers and your home address near all telephones.
- Use night lights. Place night lights in the person's bedroom and the bathroom to help prevent tripping if he or she gets up at night.
- Treat slippery or uneven surfaces. Remove throw rugs. Place nonskid strips or wax on hardwood and tile floors.
- Adjust the home phone and voice mail settings. Lower the ringer volume of your home phone to prevent distraction and confusion. Set the answering machine or voice mail to turn on after the lowest number of rings. A person with dementia might be unable to take messages or could become the victim of telephone exploitation.
Keep stairs safe. Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairs. Make sure stairs have at least one handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps.
Cover stairs in carpet or apply nonskid strips. If the person with dementia has balance problems, install safety gates in front of stairs.
- Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Place them in or near the kitchen and all sleeping areas. Check them regularly to make sure they work. If the person with dementia has vision or hearing problems, install a smoke alarm with a vibrating pad or flashing light.
- Check the locks. Make sure there are working locks on all windows and front and back doors. Keep a spare set of house keys outside of the house, in case the person with dementia locks you out. Install deadbolts high or low on outside doors to make it harder to get out.
- Address outlets and electrical cords. Place lamps close to electrical outlets. Cover unused electrical outlets with childproof plugs.
- Keep computer equipment out of the way. If you store valuable documents on your computer, protect the files with passwords and create backup files. Consider monitoring the person's computer use.
You can buy many products or gadgets necessary for home safety in hardware, electronics, medical supply and children's stores. If you need help making changes to your home, enlist friends, a home safety professional or a community organization.
Remember, paying attention to home safety can help the person with dementia maintain his or her independence — and ease the stress of caregiving.