September 7, 2021
Safety Around the Clock: Keeping a Senior with Alzheimer’s Safe Inside and Outside
Senior caregivers face an overwhelming array of responsibilities, from managing medications to just listening when their loved one needs a sympathetic ear. Providing for an elderly person’s safety seems pretty straightforward, yet even the most basic considerations can be overlooked. Seniors who need 360-degree care require careful attention to detail to avoid dangerous, even lethal threats in their own homes. For a senior with Alzheimer’s disease, safety is a minute-to-minute concern.
The degenerative effect on the brain is severely disorienting. Alzheimer’s impacts one’s judgement, sense of place and time, physical coordination and behavioral patterns. Seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s may become confused and do unexpected things that can lead to serious injury for no other reason than they’ve forgotten it’s dangerous.
Dementia may cause a senior to do any number of dangerous things, anything from touching a plugged-in appliance with wet hands to wandering outside and getting lost in their own neighborhood, which happens to three of every five Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. each year. In many ways, protecting an Alzheimer’s patient from harming themselves is like child-proofing a home. Caregivers must be diligent to prevent a potentially disastrous accident.
Take Precautions in Every Room
Most accidents are easily preventable if you thoroughly examine the home environment. For example, making sure doors are locked, placing safety knobs on the stove, installing childproof plugs in electrical outlets, as well as childproof latches on kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors can prevent a number of serious mishaps. All medications should be carefully locked away out of reach and floor space kept uncluttered with easily overlooked items such as shoes or electrical cords, which can cause a bad fall. Remove tables and furniture that have sharp corners or edges, and be sure that the bedroom has plenty of lighting.
Alzheimer’s patients with dementia may easily mistake a dangerous liquid substance for water, so be careful to lock away cleaning products like paint thinner and other dangerous liquids, such as rubbing alcohol. Lighters and matches should be put out of reach, and any poisonous household plants thrown away, just to be on the safe side. It’s worth taking the time to check with the National Poison Control Center at www.poison.org, or 1-800-222-1222, if you have any doubt about objects that could pose a threat to the senior in your care.
Bathrooms represent one of the greatest threats to seniors with Alzheimer’s. Falls are a major problem. Grab bars should be installed next to the toilet and alongside the bathtub. Non-stick mats can also help prevent falls. Serious cuts can result if razors and scissors aren’t safely locked away in a cabinet. If you have a shower with glass doors, apply decals so the senior in your care doesn’t get confused. A well-lit bathroom can help an elderly individual with dementia identify objects and avoid falls, so make sure that all burnt-out bulbs are replaced in a timely manner.
There are plenty of safety threats outside as well. Most home exteriors have features that can spell trouble for a senior with Alzheimer’s. Hard wooden or cement stairs can become slippery and produce a broken leg or fractured pelvis. Consider having a ramp installed to give an Alzheimer’s patient a smooth surface to walk on when entering or exiting.
Seniors with dementia frequently wander outside, become disoriented and get lost, which can have tragic consequences, so keep all external doors locked and always accompany the individual in your care outside. In some cases, it may be necessary to have the locks on the home rekeyed, which will require the expert services of a locksmith. You can find a local locksmith as well as ratings and reviews through a site like Angi.com.
Maintaining an environment that’s familiar, well-lit, and free of potentially harmful objects and substances is essential as a caregiver. Periodically, make a visual survey of your care-recipient’s surroundings to keep them clear of dangers they could easily miss or fail to identify correctly. As a caregiver, it’ll make your job easier and keep your loved one out of harm’s way.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay
About the Author:
Lydia Chan is the co-creator of Alzheimers.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. After her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she found herself struggling with finding balance between the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors.