While home adjustments are necessary for any senior as they age, they are especially important for seniors with dementia. As neurodegenerative diseases (like Alzheimer’s and related dementias) progress, seniors may not be able to recognize common safety hazards and could start to use commonplace items in dangerous ways. But with some specific home modifications, you can make the care environment safe for a senior with dementia.
How Dementia Affects Senior Safety
Dementia physically changes the brain and causes a number of different behavioral and cognitive changes in seniors. Here are some of the changes that can affect a senior’s safety.
- Judgement: Seniors may forget how to use household appliances. For example, they might forget that the stovetop gets hot, and they may touch it and burn themselves.
- Sense of time and place: Seniors with dementia may wander and get lost — even in their own neighborhood.
- Balance: Dementia can cause changes in balance as the disease progresses. Seniors could also forget the proper way to walk, causing them to shuffle. This can actually increase the risk of falling.
- Depth perception: A senior’s depth perception can change as a result of dementia. This can cause them to miss a step, not see something on the floor, etc.
- Sensitivity to temperature: A senior with dementia may not be as aware of changes in temperature, like food that is too hot.
As dementia progresses, watch for these symptoms in your senior loved one. With some creative changes to the home, you can ensure they stay safe!
Home Safety Tips for Dementia
Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia can safely remain at home. Here are some home safety tips to ensure that they can age in place.
Door and Window Locks
Seniors with dementia are prone to wandering and getting lost, which can pose serious safety concerns. Seniors could get stranded outdoors in blistering heat or frigid cold. They could also become the victim of a crime. However, you can prevent wandering at home by installing locks on windows and doors.
We recommend installing a deadbolt above or below eye level on all exterior doors. Keep these doors locked at all times while the senior is at home. While these exterior locks are important, you may want to actually remove interior door locks. Seniors with dementia could accidentally lock themselves in a room and not know how to get out. You’ll want to keep a key outside the home in case the senior accidentally locks you out of the house.
When it comes to windows, make sure all exterior windows have working locks and that they are in the locked position. You may also want to consider installing alarms on windows and doors that let you know when they are opened.
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Because seniors may forget how to use appliances, you may need to replace or add safety features to existing appliances. For example, get a stove with an automatic shut-off feature. You can also add safety knob covers to prevent seniors with dementia from using the stove. If the kitchen is hooked up to gas, you should turn off the gas when the stove is not in use.
You can put a safety lock on the fridge as well to keep seniors from accidentally opening the fridge and leaving the door open. This could also help if there are foods in the fridge that a senior can’t have, like foods they are allergic to or that a doctor has recommended that your loved one avoids.
You may also want to disconnect the garbage disposal because a senior with dementia could accidentally hurt themselves or destroy objects in the kitchen sink.
Create an even level of bright lighting throughout the home to reduce shadows and improve contrast. This can help seniors with dementia better distinguish different items and avoid tripping. Improved lighting can help them safely navigate around the home as well as see and react to facial expressions. Additionally, increased visibility can help with behavioral changes that can be triggered by changes in lighting.
Consider opening blinds to allow for daylight during the day. Install overhead lighting or plug in lamps in areas that are dim. Consider placing nightlights in hallways and bathrooms to help seniors who go to the bathroom at night. Nightlights can also be effective on stairs, which are often places with poor lighting and contrast.
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Seniors may lean on heavy pieces of furniture to stabilize themselves as they move about the home. Secure heavy furniture in the home to prevent them from tipping over onto a senior or moving as a senior holds onto it. Below are some examples of heavy furniture pieces to consider:
- Couch and armchairs
- Large TVs
Potential Weapons & Hazards
A senior with dementia could use many items in the home in ways that are dangerous. For example, a senior might try to drink gasoline, accidentally cut themselves on a pair of scissors, or take too much medication. Seniors may also use items around the home as potential weapons if they feel threatened, angry, or scared. For example, a senior might pick up an artistic sculpture and throw it at you in a fit of anger.
To help prevent injury, try to anticipate things that could be used as weapons or become hazards. Pay close attention to the kitchen and laundry room. Secure potentially dangerous items by placing safety locks or removing the item from the care environment altogether. This can help keep you and the senior safe.
Because seniors with dementia may not be as sensitive to hot and cold, you can help maintain temperatures within the home. Consider installing a smart thermostat that you can manage on your phone to keep the house programmed to an appropriate level. Or place a safety box over your existing unit.
Set the thermostat on your hot water heater to below 120°F to help prevent a senior from getting burned by hot water when showering or washing their hands. You may also want to check their food before they eat it in case it is too hot and burns their tongue. Color-changing silverware is a great way to check the temperature of foods.
Do not use any heating devices in the home, like electric blankets, heating pads, or space heaters. A senior could remain in contact with them for too long, resulting in a burn.
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To help improve depth perception, you can add contrast to different areas in the home. This can help a senior with dementia distinguish shapes, avoid certain areas, or have more caution. For example, adding colored light switches throughout the home can help a senior find the switches more easily. Or painting the kitchen cabinets a different color from the wall can help a senior see them more clearly and avoid bumping into them on accident.
We recommend adding contrast tape around hazards in the home that cannot be removed, like stairs or where there is an uneven transition of flooring. Red contrast tape is great around floor vents, radiators, or other heating devices in the living environment because it signals that something is hot or dangerous.
Home Safety Assessment
Caring Senior Service offers a FREE home safety assessment to seniors in the areas we serve. This assessment includes specific recommendations for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Our caregivers can also provide additional assistance and monitoring to keep a senior with dementia safe at home. Reach out to your local Caring team to learn more.