by Wendy Pester~
As I had mentioned in Part I of this two part blog, keeping a loved one with dementia safe in the home, means taking into account every possible scenario of danger, just as you would with a toddler. I often tell my clients or those who attend my support groups, “Caring for a dementia patient, is like caring for a full grown toddler.” With that in mind, here are some very important tips to help keep your loved one safe from danger and safe from themselves:
First and foremost, be proactive – take preventative measures. We can’t possibly predict what a person with dementia might do. And just because something has not yet transpired doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Even with the best plans in place, accidents can happen in the blink of any eye. But by evaluating the environment and safety of your home you can help minimize the risk of potential problems and hazardous situations.
Second, modify the environment. It is certainly more realistic that you’ll be able to change the environment than to change most dementia behaviors, even if you are a master at redirection. While some dementia behaviors can be managed with medications, many cannot. The behavioral and functional changes in someone with dementia will require changes to the home to increase independence and decrease the hazards and stressors associated with dementia.
Third, minimize danger. By decreasing the risk of danger, you can increase one’s independence. Someone suffering with dementia can feel an increased sense of security, and be more mobile around the home. Ensuring their safety within their home environment can be less restrictive and more manageable.
Below are helpful suggestions from Making Life Easier that will give you and your loved-one peace of mind.
Disguise Doors to Discourage Wandering – If your loved one gets confused and wanders into dangerous places, disguise doorways by hanging curtains or covering them with a photographic mural. Studies have shown that a large red stop sign sends an understandable message to even those with severe memory loss. Make or purchase a cardboard stop sign and mount directly to exit doors and doors to rooms that are “off limits”. As an added deterrent, you may also wish to create a “crash bar” by cutting a piece of foam core 4” high by the width of the door, that slips between the door jams and hides the door knob; place your stop sign in the middle of the bar.
Use “Baby Proof” Latches and Gates for Safety – Improve the safety of a confused person living in your home by putting child safety latches on cupboards and doors. These devices, available in baby departments and stores are easy to open for those who know how. If you prefer, use a hook and eye latch. Whichever you choose, install the latches higher or lower than eye level. Baby gates can be placed across open doorways to deny access. Baby proofing items are available in baby departments or stores.
Use a Baby Monitor to Keep Track of Activity in Another Room – A baby monitor or wireless intercom allows a caregiver to attend to household duties while listening for what is happening in another room. Put the transmitter near the person you wish to monitor and carry the wireless receiver with you. Monitors are available in baby departments or stores.
Use Motion Detector Lights and Alarms to Track Movement into Unsafe Areas – Ask at your favorite hardware or home improvement store about easy-to-install motion sensor devices that automatically sound an alarm or turn on a light when someone enters an area. Place one in a hallway and the light will alert you to someone wandering outside their room at night. This is a great feature for home entries (inside and outside) and laundry rooms where you are likely to have your hands too full to turn on the light. Some have an adjustable time delay so if used in the bedroom, you can safely get into bed before the lights turn off.
Cover Doorknobs to Prevent Opening – To prevent a confused adult from opening doors and wandering into dangerous areas, place a sock, over the doorknob and secure it by winding a rubber band tightly around the stem of the knob to help keep the sock from being pulled off. When someone tries to open the door, the sock slides around the knob making it difficult to open; yet adults who can squeeze and turn the doorknob can easily open the door.
Install Flood Alarms or Automatic Faucets – If leaving water running is a concern, consider installing a flood alarm, designed for use in basements and laundry rooms, to notify you if water is detected on the floor, The detector plugs into the wall (battery operated versions also available) with a sensor wire that leads to the floor; if the wire comes in contact with water, such as an overflowing tub, the alarm lets you know. Flood alarms are inexpensive insurance in the bathroom, kitchen, and laundry room — anywhere a water leak/overflow might be possible. Available at hardware and home improvement stores. You may also want to install an automatic faucet, some of which come with anti-scald devices, that senses the person’s hands in front of it and turns the water on and off automatically; professional installation may be required.
Use Seat Covers to make Clean up Easier – To make cleaning up “accidents” easier, place a clear plastic chair protector on your sofa and upholstered chairs. In addition to preventing stains and making clean up easier, it is also easier to change position and slide on and off the chair seat. Cover the mattress with a plastic cover or try placing Chux®, those blue plastic pads with an absorbent cotton lining typically used in hospitals, under the bed sheets to prevent incontinence from ruining the mattress.
Cover Mirrors – Some people with advanced dementia cannot recognize themselves in the mirror. Instead of trying to reason with them, cover the mirror with a towel, pillowcase, or soothing photographic poster.
Use a Recliner to Keep Someone with Dementia in Place – To help prevent a confused adult from wandering away, seat them in a deep overstuffed chair or recliner by a window or aquarium where they can watch the activity. If the person spends a lot of time in a recliner, keep the chair clean by covering it with a fitted, twin bed sheet.
Make Your Home Familiar and Safe – When memory is an issue, avoid the urge to rearrange the furniture — keeping everything in the same place is an important strategy. For safety purposes, install locks on doors and cabinets containing medicines, toxic substances, and dangerous utensils or tools; remove electrical appliances from your bathroom; set your water heater temperature to 120 degrees; install grab rails and automatic lighting, remove knobs from stoves or unplug the stove when YOU aren’t using it — in this way you will help prevent accidents around the home.