When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, families must eventually face the difficult decision of whether to care for them at home or find a suitable facility to meet their needs. While a skilled nursing facility may ultimately be unavoidable as the disease progresses, Alzheimer’s patients can often live at home with family members as long as necessary precautions have been taken. Since Alzheimer’s compromises a person’s memory and critical thinking abilities, it is absolutely essential make certain accommodations in the home.
1. Assess your home environment
Before welcoming your loved one into your home, you should slowly walk through every room, taking note of any potential health and safety hazards. Remember that Alzheimer’s patients can easily and quickly become disoriented and confused. They may forget how to use a common household appliance, experiences changes in their senses, or have difficulty keeping their balance. Address any obvious dangers right away. It is helpful to have another person do this with you so that you have the benefit of two different perspectives.
2. Prepare for emergencies
Make a list of important emergency contacts including the local police and fire department numbers. The list should be printed using a large, clear font and placed in a highly visible location such as the front of the refrigerator. Keep an additional copy directly next to the phone if you have a landline.
Your home should also be equipped with fully functional fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. Check the batteries on smoke detectors and the gauges of fire extinguishers often to ensure they are in good working order should an emergency arise.
3. Pay attention to locks
When Alzheimer’s patients become disoriented, they may wander away from the home and become lost. To prevent such a tragedy from occurring, you should install deadbolts on the outside doors either very high or low to make it less likely that they will be able to unlock it and amble down the street.
4. Keep things bright
Alzheimer’s patients are less likely to trip and fall if every corner of the home is well lit. This includes hallways, entranceways, bathrooms, bedrooms, and especially stairways. If a particular area of the house seems a little dark, install extra lights or lamps.
For the same reason, all light sources should be easy to locate and use. Light switches should be close to doorways or you can purchase lamps that are activated by touch or sound.
5. Add safety features
Preparing your home for a loved one with Alzheimer’s isn’t just about making minor adjustments to what is already there; you may have to install elements that are specifically for their benefit which may include railing along stairways, railing in the bathroom (near both the toilet and the shower), or even a wheelchair ramp.
6. Put dangerous things out of reach
The easiest way of preventing bad things from happening is to place potentially dangerous objects out of sight and reach. It is especially important to keep weapons like guns locked safely away because Alzheimer’s patients may experience lapses in memory which cause them to see family members and friends as dangerous intruders. This can have truly disastrous results if the patient has access to a weapon. Objects like kitchen knives, scissors, gardening sheers, and fire pokers should also be secured.
7. Clear the clutter
All walking surfaces should be kept clear and free of clutter at all times. This will prevent harmful falls while also creating a less stressful physical environment for your loved one. This may require some extra effort if you have children who like to leave things around the house. That’s why preparing your home for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s must be a concerted family effort.
Don’t lose sight of the fact that your house is still a home. It is meant to be a comforting refuge. Safety precautions are essential, but don’t go overboard and turn your home into a cage. And if all else fails, maybe it’s time to call in an expert.
David Cormier is a blogger for Always Best Care, who have been helping families with non-medical in-home care and assisted living placement since 1996.