Check out this special feature from Lydia Chan co-creator of Alzheimer's Caregiver, which provides resources to help caregivers...
Assuming the role of caregiver for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease is no small commitment. Alzheimer’s is one of the hardest conditions for a family to cope with, and the ever-changing nature of the disease requires carers to constantly be on their toes, ready to adapt.
If you’re preparing to bring a loved one with Alzheimer’s into your home, there are a few safety measures you can take to make your job easier.
In early-stage Alzheimer’s, patients are mostly independent but forgetful and occasionally unpredictable. As the disease progresses, so do the safety concerns; during the middle stage, hazards grow to include wandering and delusions. Here’s how to prepare:
- Kitchen Safety: Store knives and other sharp implements out of reach and consider removing burner knobs from the stove. Ensure smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are in working order.
- Medications: Organize prescriptions by day and dose to prevent misuse and store extra medications in a locked cabinet.
- Driving: Patients in early-stage Alzheimer’s may still be able to drive, but should be closely monitored for signs it’s time to stop. Install GPS navigation to prevent getting lost.
- Kitchen Safety: In middle-stage Alzheimer’s, cooking outside of microwave use becomes unsafe.
- Medication: In addition to help organizing pills, patients may need assistance administering medications.
- Mobility: Changes to spatial awareness may cause problems with balance and mobility. Secure or remove rugs, install grab bars, and consider a mobility device to prevent falls.
- Wandering: According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the middle-stage is when wandering typically starts in Alzheimer’s patients. A disoriented senior wandering away from home is extremely dangerous, so families should install security systems that notify when an exit door is opened.
Alzheimer's symptoms include myriad physical effects that impact a patient’s ability to navigate daily life. Symptoms vary person to person and may include stiffness, tremors, incontinence, and poor coordination. In fact, symptoms aren’t always due to declining physical health and may instead be caused by advancing cognitive impairment. Regardless of the cause or stage of disease, caregivers must consider the following:
- Bathroom Safety: Falls are a leading cause of death among seniors, according to the CDC, and the bathroom is the riskiest room in the house. Caregivers should remodel to install grab bars, non-slip flooring, and other safety features, but they’ll need to budget. The average cost to remodel a bathroom is $8,820.
- Stairs: Account for declining mobility by creating at least one step-free entryway, adapting your house for single-floor living, and blocking access to stairwells.
- Lighting: Brighter lighting prevent falls and disorientation at night, especially when paired with motion sensing technology.
- Meals: Between reduced motor function, tremors, and difficulty chewing and swallowing, eating becomes harder as Alzheimer’s progresses. Adaptive eating aids help patients eat independently for longer.
You can’t take good care of your loved one unless you’re taking good care of yourself. According to the Office on Women’s Health, caregivers experience exceptional amounts of stress, which can lead to depression, weight gain, and a weakened immune system, and increase the risk of serious chronic illnesses. Furthermore, stress can lead to caregiver burnout, leaving you unable to provide for your family member at all.
Alzheimer’s is an unpredictable disease. Your family member could be upbeat and present one day, only to feel irritable and confused the next. As a caregiver, taking precautions before they’re proven necessary helps you prevent accidents and protect the safety of your family and home.
About the Author:
Lydia Chan is an advocate for seniors facing Alzheimer's, offering tips and advice to help loved ones and caregivers improve their standard of living. She developed Alzheimerscaregiver.net to provide helpful resources to the community-at-large and to support our elders.