Everyone with an older parent living alone worries about falls, but what about other household dangers for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The Visiting Nurse Service of New York, which sends caregivers to 38,000 mostly elderly patients a day, has come up with a list of tips for adapting homes for dementia patients.
It was complied by Cathy Castronova, a registered nurse and case manager with the service’s affiliate, Partners in Care, who assesses the homes of older people for safety and has taught numerous classes on helping seniors remain safe at home.
“There are a lot of safety issues for people who are not oriented,” said Ms. Castronova.
“A lot of times they’ll come to your attention when they’re going home from a hospital stay, and you’ll assess the home and say to yourself, ‘She’s been living alone like this all this time? With a gas stove? What if she caught the knob on her pocket and turned it on by accident?’”
(Her tip for gas stoves, which did not make the top 15, is to disable the gas and switch to a microwave or toaster oven.)
Here are her suggestions for elder-proofing:
1. Create a “wander loop” in your home, a safe pathway that allows the patient to safely roam.
2. Use reflector tape to create a path to the bathroom.
3. Cover radiators and electrical outlets with guards.
4. Lock doors that lead to places like basements and garages.
5. Lock cabinets that contain liquor, medications, household chemicals and any other toxic substances that could be swallowed.
6. Get rid of firearms, or store them in a locked cabinet with bullets in a separate locked cabinet.
7. Install safety locks and alarms on exit doors and gates.
8. Cover smooth or shiny surfaces to reduce confusing glare.
9. Eliminate shadows with a lamp that reflects off the ceiling.
10. Cover or remove mirrors if they are upsetting to a person with hallucinations.
11. Store car keys in a locked container; disable the car.
12. Do not allow unattended smoking.
13. Make sure an I.D. bracelet is being worn at all times.
14. When selecting home care, make sure to hire an aide who has been trained to deal with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, and is under the supervision of a skilled home care nurse.
15. And, most importantly, constantly re-assess your parent’s abilities with the help of a nurse or physician.