Q. Mom has memory problems. Do we need to take any special care about safety?
A. People with “memory problems” (including Alzheimer’s and associated dementias) pose extra challenges in the area of home safety. One out of 6 people over age 65 have “memory problems” and half of the over age 85 population is has dementia, Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia, Parkinson’s dementia, etc.
People with these diseases not only have trouble remembering things, but they also have deficits in their executive brain functions. Executive brain functions are things like the ability to think logically, the ability to reason out a problem, and even the ability to be aware that something is wrong with the way they are thinking. Therefore, sometimes, they really are not aware that there are problems, issues and dangers to themselves.
In the area of home safety, this means that Mom may not have the ability to know when something is unsafe. Safety automatically becomes your responsibility. In short it is no longer ok to go against your better knowledge and instincts, just to keep the peace with Mom.
Q. How do I keep Mom from wandering out of the house while keeping her dignity and independence?
A. About 60 % of all people who have dementia will wander sometime during the course of the disease. To prevent wandering out of the home:
For wandering (pacing) inside the house:
Q. How can we make the kitchen safer?
A. Install childproof door latches on cabinets and drawers that contain dangerous items (household cleaning products, knives. scissors, blades, matches and small appliances that cut, grind or shred). In advanced stages of dementia, remove artificial fruits and vegetables and magnets from the kitchen. Check and clean the freezer, the refrigerator, and food storage pantries every week. Consider disabling the garbage disposal when Mom is unsupervised. She could place objects, or her own hands in the disposal. Install a switch (in a discrete place) to turn off gas or electricity to the stove and oven while Mom is alone in the house.
Q. What about the bedroom?
A. Install an intercom device or use a baby monitor to alert you to noises indicating a fall or a cry for help. If falls happen often more than once in six months, consider moving the bed up against the wall or placing the mattress and box springs on the floor, and padding or using plush carpet next to the bed. Use a nightlight in the room.
Q. And the bathroom?
Mark a path to the bathroom if Mom can’t find it when she needs to do. Put a BATHROOM sign on the door. Remove the lock from the door. If Mom has “progressed” in her disease, do not leave her alone in the bathroom at all. Remove all cleaning supplies. Lock up or remove small electrical appliances from the room, and cover the electrical outlets when not in use. (Covers can be found at home improvement stores). Remove or cover water handles on the sink and bathtub if possible.
Q. What about medicines?
A. Medicines should be locked up. The weekly pill dispenser needs to be out of sight when not being used. You or another caregiver needs to SEE Mom taking her medications every day. Do not accept her assurances that she took them.
For more information on these and other safety issues call us at 214-649-1392 or email ThirdAge Services at www.thirdageservices.com or contact the Alzheimer’s Association 1-800-272-3900 or at www.alzdallas.org.
Note: Some information in this article originally appeared in The Department of Health and Human Services Publication No. 02-5179 and in various brochures, pamphlets and fact sheets from the Alzheimer’s Association. Carole Larkin is employed on the help line with the Dallas Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.