Alzheimer’s disease affects millions of Australians. It can be your grandparent, your cousin, your sibling or even your parent who faces the diagnosis. Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s require round-the-clock care and for many families that means taking the loved one into their own home. It’s an insidious disease that invades quietly and slowly and steals away our loved ones. From Memory Lane Therapy, here’s what you can do to make the transition easier and safer for your family.
Talk to your loved one’s physician or an occupational therapist to assess the level of care and help they’re going to need and to anticipate changes in the future. Dementia patients have a tendency to wander, so the first thing you’ll want to do is improve your home security. New sensors can be placed on doors and windows to alert you when they are opened, and smart home technology and wearable devices can help you monitor their movement in the house. You’ll want to be sure your yard is also secured and to alert your neighbors of your loved one’s condition. Consider adding a sticker sign to front and back doors advising that an Alzheimer’s patient is in residence to help emergency services such as police, fire and EMS to respond appropriately in a crisis.
You can hire a professional, but a lot of projects can be handled as small do-it-yourself projects over a weekend. Make sure to have a useful tape measure to obtain accurate dimensions for your home repairs. You can add grab bars in the bath and non-slip surfaces in the tub and around the toilet. You can paint in contrasting colors to help patients make out handrails, doorknobs and stair risers in the home. Get rid of, or tape down rugs to prevent falls. Use picture labels to identify the contents of drawers and containers around the house; this will help prevent frustration when the patient is looking for something in particular.
Store dangerous items such as medications, weapons and chemical cleaners securely in lockable locations. Arrange furniture to provide a clear traffic pattern and eliminate confusing clutter and tripping hazards throughout the residence. If you have fake fruit decorations, put them into storage to prevent accidental ingestion or choking.
Make sure all smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have new batteries and install fire extinguishers in key locations around the home. Lower the temperature on your water heater to prevent accidental scalding and consider taking knobs off the stove when it is not in use, so you can prevent your loved one from accessing it. Cover electrical outlets with safety covers and add adult safety latches to the kitchen cabinetry. Make sure your home has plenty of lighting and place emergency phone numbers in close proximity to all phones.
Improve Daily Life
There are a number of things you can do to help your loved one manage their frustration and confusion, and settle into your home. Incorporate their own furnishings where you can, and surround them with things that make them feel comfortable and happy. Consider gating off areas of the house where they might become injured or overwhelmed such as garages, basement steps, kids’ rooms, and storage closets.
In addition to improved lighting, you may want to add reflective tape to help the patient find his or her way around the house. If multiple people are caring for the patient, add a whiteboard schedule to help everyone remember their assigned duties. Alzheimer’s patients are frequently sensitive to sound, so it may help to soundproof areas such as playrooms or dens, or loud appliances in the home.
Patients may have trouble remembering routines, so break activities up into step-by-step tasks and consider listing the order of events on a memo board to help them remember. This can aid in areas of personal care, such as tooth brushing, toileting and handwashing.
Be sure to include therapeutic activities in their daily routine, like taking a walk around the block and listening to music or even singing to help with memory and concentration.
Try to examine your home with a critical eye, looking at it from the perspective of your family member who is managing Alzheimer’s Disease. Be alert for potential problems, and be quick to rectify them. And if you’re concerned about cost, know that many of these changes, especially improvements to bathrooms or flooring, will actually add value to your home. Communicate openly with friends and neighbors about your situation so they can assist you in an emergency. The challenges of dealing with an Alzheimer’s patient can be taxing, and you will need help. You may even wish to avail yourself of the services of a social worker to help you identify safety hazards you have overlooked.