Although the Alzheimer’s Association currently reports that over 5 million people nationwide are living with the condition, not everyone experiencing symptoms reports them. This means the numbers of people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia is most likely much higher than documented. There are at least ten different types of dementia. Of these, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common and most prevalent. All types of dementia have memory loss as a major symptom. Loss of other mental abilities is also part of the condition and negatively impact everyday living. Physical changes in the brain are the cause of these conditions. Since dementia affects memory and other mental abilities, small things can become hazardous to the person living with the disease. It is important to be aware of these dangers and make adjustments to keep the environment safe. Household appliances can cause problems as one forgets how to use them. The ability to tell time and know where you are is also compromised, making it easy to get lost in familiar surroundings. It is not unusual for dementia patients to have trouble with balance which contributes to falls. Confusion and fear can affect behavior as memory decreases. Being aware of some of the common issues will help in providing safer surroundings.
- Loss of Balance – It is important to make adjustments in the home to accommodate the loss of balance experienced by those with dementia. Elderly people often don’t have the balance that they had when they were younger. This is part of the aging process, however those experiencing dementia may be even more susceptible to falls. Identifying hazards that could lead to falls and correcting them is important. Loose rugs are notorious for tripping people and leading to falls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also lists lack of handrails on stairways and cluttered hallways as problem areas. Removing loose rugs, keeping walkways clear, and providing handrails on staircases will eliminate some of the more popular sources for falls. It’s also a good idea to ensure that slippery surfaces, such as the bathtub or shower floor, have textured grips to prevent slips.
- Temperature Insensitivity – Another issue with dementia is the insensitivity to temperatures. Bathing or washing dishes can become problematic if the water is too hot. Identifying the water taps with the use of bright red and blue, to indicate hot and cold respectively, may be helpful. If possible, the temperature on the water heater could also be turned down to prevent burns. An automatic thermometer is another option that will keep the water at a safe temperature.
- Dangerous Substances – As the memory loss increases, the person with dementia becomes more vulnerable to harmful situations that were not so harmful before. For example, certain plants are toxic. It isn’t unusual for a person with dementia to try to eat a plant or decorative fruit. It is best to eliminate the possibility that the plant could be confused with edible food. Medicines also become dangerous for the patient with dementia. Overdosing could occur if the person forgets that a dose was already taken. Storing medication in a locked cabinet is safest, even over-the-counter items like vitamins, aspirin, and others. Storing cleaning fluids out of the way is important also. Dementia patients have been known to accidentally ingest them.
- Firearms – According to a publication released by the Alzheimer’s Association, locking up guns and disabling them may not be enough to deter a person with dementia from hurting themselves or another person. Because the disease often causes people to become suspicious of others, sometimes they will go to great lengths to protect themselves. Ideally, if there are weapons in the home, it is best to decide early in the process how they will be stored away to prevent possible injury.
- Wandering – A big safety issue for those with dementia is wandering. Forgetting where you live or how to get home can be frightening. Knowing that your loved one is lost and not being able to find them is equally as frightening. Adult daycare is one solution that provides activities and structure as well as a safe environment. When that is not an option, placing deadbolts on exterior doors out of reach will help. Always make sure that the person with dementia is supervised, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings.