Watch out for these Alzheimer’s safety risks at home

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Keeping a senior with dementia safe at home

Different people will experience different symptoms, but a dementia diagnosis typically affects judgment, temperament, understanding of time and place, and physical abilities such as balance. These changes in both the brain and the body can make living independently difficult and even unsafe.

However, understanding the risks seniors living with dementia face at home can help you create a safer living environment for your loved one. Whether a senior with dementia lives in their own home or with family, there are certain steps a caregiver can take to help them avoid accidents that may lead to property damage and injury.

Minimize fall risks

Difficulties with balance and coordination often emerge in the early and middle stages of dementia. Falls among seniors living with dementia are twice as likely to occur compared to seniors who don’t have dementia.[01] And these stumbles are more likely to be severe for seniors with dementia, causing injuries that can lead to a loss of independence, a deterioration of health, or even death.

Take the following steps to help minimize the chances of a fall:

  • Make sure walkways are well lit and clear of any tripping hazards.
  • Remove or secure rugs, and make sure electrical cords are tucked away.
  • Remove unstable furniture and anything from the floors that’s small and possibly hard to see.
  • Mark the edges of steps and corners with bright colored tape.
  • Install grab bars and handrails in bathrooms and anywhere there are stairs.
  • Encourage your loved one to use mobility aids like a cane or walker to help minimize fall risks.

Manage and monitor medications

People with early- to middle-stage dementia may struggle to take their medications as directed — sometimes even before being diagnosed by a doctor.

“There are several tools to help seniors manage their medication,” says Carol Bradley Bursack, an experienced family caregiver and author of Minding Our Elders. “But there comes a time when most of them can no longer be relied on. Most people with dementia will need someone to fill pill boxes or other delivery systems, at the very least.”

Staying current on the medications your loved one is prescribed and following these tips can help you keep your loved one safe:

  • Help your loved one manage medications by using pillboxes and reminder apps or calendars. A locking pill dispenser may be necessary to prevent accidental overdoses.
  • Review your loved one’s medications with their doctor.
  • Learn about possible drug interactions and medication side effects.

Enhance kitchen safety

Cooking is the number-one cause of house fires, and adults over 65 are 2.5 times more likely to be injured or die in a house fire.[02,03] Seniors starting fires while cooking can be a catalyst for families to seek memory care. Such accidents often indicate that a senior can no longer handle activities of daily living (ADLs) on their own.

Depending on which stage of dementia your loved one is living with, Bursack says, “You may want to discourage the use of the stove and rely on a microwave.” She also says, “If they live alone, meal delivery services can help simplify the need for preparation and encourage nutritious meals.”

While there are many hazards in the kitchen, the following tips can help make it safer for your loved one living with dementia:

  • Install safety knobs and auto-shutoff devices on appliances, or create signs to remind seniors to turn off the stove and oven.
  • Consider disconnecting the garbage disposal.
  • Remove or secure hazardous items like knives, flammable liquids, matches, and cleaning chemicals.
  • Ensure there are working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in or near the kitchen. Test them frequently to make they are functioning properly.
  • Consider hiring an in-home care aide to cook meals.

Monitor driving abilities

Having a conversation with your senior loved one about their ability to continue driving can be a challenging task. Some people with dementia voluntarily avoid driving as their symptoms intensify. However, it’s recommended that you have a conversation with your loved one early on about the risks and responsibilities of driving, so they can engage in the decision-making process.

As a caregiver, you may eventually notice signs it’s time to take a senior’s car keys away to keep everyone safe. Some of these signs might be that they get lost easily, they have difficulty reading road signs, or they’re experiencing serious changes in health. The American Automobile Association (AAA) offers tools to help families evaluate a senior’s driving ability.

Some people with dementia may not realize that their condition makes driving unsafe. If your loved one insists on driving, even if it’s clear they pose a risk to themselves or others, Bursack says you may have to find a way to intervene.

“For example, you could move the car to a different location and then tell them ‘it’s in the shop,’ or disable the car by removing the battery.” Bursack says, “During this time, help your loved one learn that they can get around without a car. That could mean providing transportation yourself or finding alternative transportation for seniors that you could help arrange.”

Consider the following tips to help your loved one reduce their reliance on driving:

  • Have conversations about driving before a dementia diagnosis or during the early stage of the condition.
  • Set up services that can deliver your loved one groceries or medications.
  • Explore alternative transportation options like ride-hailing services such as Uber or senior-specific transportation services in their community.
  • Lock all vehicles and secure all car keys.
  • Secure vehicles out of sight by covering them or storing them in another location.
  • If necessary, immobilize your loved one’s vehicle.

Secure or remove firearms

Specific dementia symptoms — including increased anxiety, hallucinations, and aggression — can affect a person’s ability to safely handle a firearm. About one-third of adults 65 and older own a gun.[04] However, only 20% of older gun owners surveyed in 2021 had a plan to make sure their gun is secured, removed, or transferred if they become unable to safely handle it.[05]

People living with dementia become a potential danger to themselves, their caretakers, and others when they have access to weapons. If your loved one owns a gun, it’s best to discuss these risks before their cognition and communication are affected. Create a plan to remove guns from the house and mutually agree on a “firearms retirement” date.

Similar to driving, your loved one may not realize their condition makes it unsafe for them to possess a firearm, and family caregivers may have to intervene. Bursack recommends suggesting that your loved one’s guns should be removed to help ensure the safety of their grandchildren, as one potential solution.

“You could take the guns to a specialty gun shop and have them disabled in a way that isn’t obvious,” she advises.

Other ideas for helping your loved one secure or remove their firearms include the following:

  • Schedule a meeting to have a conversation about firearms while your loved one is still able to contribute to the planning process.
  • Remove guns or lock them in a safe.
  • Install safety locks on guns or remove firing pins.
  • Remove all ammunition from the home.

Getting lost while traveling can occur in early-stage dementia, but it can becoming increasingly risky as a person’s dementia progresses. Wandering usually occurs within one’s home or senior living facility and can become dangerous for individuals unable to identify potential hazards. Elopement occurs when a person living with dementia leaves their safe home environment.

Without support or supervision, those living with dementia face substantial risks. In extreme cases they may go missing, wander into a dangerous situation, or have an accident where they sustain physical injuries. For a senior living with dementia who has gotten lost or exhibits wandering symptoms, it may be time to consider more supervision.

  • Notify local authorities and neighbors if your loved one exhibits wandering symptoms, and consider wearable tracking devices if they’re prone to elopement.
  • Install cameras, door alarms, or asenior monitoring system.
  • Install childproof door locks on certain doors to limit access or elopement.
  • Create a list of places your loved one might wander to. These could be favorite places or places they routinely visited.

When can a senior with dementia no longer live alone?

Many caregivers are able to support their senior parent during the early and middle stages of dementia and manage dementia behaviors, but there will likely come a time when more intensive care and supervision is required to maximize a loved one’s safety.

“Every person with dementia is a little different, so it’s case by case,” Bursack says. “However, there are signs that suggest that it’s time for them to either move in with family, have a caregiver come in, or move to memory care.”

“Among these signs are frequent falls, paranoia, significant confusion that could cause them to wander off and become lost, and mixing up medications. Another reason is older adults who live alone, especially with dementia, can become very isolated and lonely. Often, either hiring in-home help or moving to a facility is a positive move that helps them socialize.”

How to find help caring for a loved one living with dementia

Depending on your loved one’s specific needs, there are several care options available for seniors living with dementia. Home care offers supportive services so that seniors can continue to live at home or with family. For those who require an even safer living environment, assisted living and memory care facilities provide comfortable, residential living and specialized care services.

Determining the right type of care for your loved one can be challenging. A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors help you find the local senior care options that fit your family’s needs and budget, all at no cost to you.

This article originally appeared on APlaceForMom and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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