by Joanne Webb
Anticipating and assessing potentially unsafe situations can be challenging for family members caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s disease at home. Finding a balance between safety and independence is not always easy, and even situations that are clearly unsafe may be difficult to change. Some decisions, such as stopping driving or taking over medication management, often involve a period of emotional adjustment for the person with dementia and the family. For the person with dementia, there may be feelings of resentment and loss, while family members often feel guilty or unhappy about having to restrict their loved one’s activities. Moreover, identifying and resolving home safety problems is not a straightforward task involving a single assessment and implementation, it needs to be an ongoing process, and it intensifies as cognitive problems become more severe.
There are three general principles that can help increase safety and reduce stress in the daily home life of both the person with dementia and his or her caregiver:
In evaluating home safety it is also vital to assess the degree of supervision that the person with dementia requires. Many caregivers wonder whether (and for how long) it is safe to leave their relative at home alone. If you aren’t sure, ask yourself the following questions:
Family members and individuals with dementia must continue to adapt the home as dementia symptoms progress. A home safety check-list can be a helpful organization tool and a way to look at your home and familiar belongings with an objective view towards potential accidents. It can also be a time saver in the process of continual readjustment. Taking the time to walk from room to room, checking off items on a periodic basis, and making needed changes as soon as possible will go a long way to prevent home accidents.
Some of the changes you’ll need to make may require special equipment such as bathroom grab bars. These items can be found in hardware, variety and medical supply stores. Many communities have programs that provide home repairs and modifications at no charge or reduced rates to elderly and disabled residents. Your local Senior Information and Referral service will have information about such programs and may have referrals for small job contractors who can install handrails and other fixtures in the home at a reasonable cost. The inconvenience of making these changes and the cost of the work, even at full price, will be more than offset by your peace of mind and your relative’s increased safety. If you are caring for a person with dementia, the following resource is highly recommended to help ensure a safe environment:
Home Safety Room By Room, NIH Publication No. 02-5179, can be obtained from the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center (ADEAR) 1-800-438-4380 or online at www.alzheimers.org/pubs/homesafety.htm.