Discovering your loved one is experiencing the onset of dementia is one of the most painful and emotionally challenging stages of an adult child’s life. Watching your loved one’s abilities decline requires a candid discussion among family members and physicians to decide the best care. For many, the ideal care setting is within a nursing home or assisted-living facility. For others, the preferred care plan involves allowing the loved one to remain in their home or in the home of an unpaid caregiver.
More than 15 million Americans – usually family members or friends – provide unpaid caregiving to people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, according to a 2014 report by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Although it’s wonderful so many are willing to assume that responsibility, it’s also important they take steps to make sure the home is a safe place, says Kerry Mills, co-author with Jennifer Brush of the book I Care: A Handbook for Care Partners of People With Dementia.
Along with regular visits to your doctor to monitor progress, loved ones can make adjustments around the home to ensure the safety of both the patient and the caregiving family. Mills offers these suggestions.
For the front and back doors. Use bells on the doors, motion sensors that turn on lights or alerts, or other notifications that make the care partner aware when someone has gone out. Add lamps or motion-activated lighting so people can see where they are going when they are entering or leaving the house.
“Another way to discourage someone from wanting to leave the house is to make sure that he or she gets plenty of outside exercise whenever possible,” Mills says.
For stairways and hallways. Add reflective tape strips to stair edges to make stairs more visible. Remove obstacles, such as mats and flowerpots, to minimize risks of falls on or by the stairs.
Also, install handrails in hallways and stairways to provide stability, and install a gate on the stairway to prevent falls. Improve the lighting around hallways and stairs by installing more ceiling fixtures or wall sconces.
For the bathroom. Install grab bars and a raised toilet seat to help both the individual with dementia and the care partners so they don’t have to lift the person on and off the toilet.
Add grab bars inside and outside the tub, and a non-skid surface in the tub to reduce risks of falls. You can also add colored tape on the edge of the tub or shower curb to increase contrast and make the tub edge more visible.
Lower the water temperature or install an anti-scald valve to prevent burns, and remove drain plugs from sinks or tubs to avoid flooding.
Maintaining a schedule for bathing and daily activities is beneficial to effective caregiving. An article published by A Place for Mom.com suggests planning a bath or shower at the time of day when your loved one is most calm and agreeable. A routine is also helpful during dressing, exercise, and mealtimes.
For the possibility the person becomes lost. Provide your loved one with an identification or GPS bracelet in case he or she wanders. Label clothes with the person’s name, and place an identification card in his or her wallet with a description of the person’s condition. Notify police and neighbors of the person’s dementia and tendency to wander.
“Dementia is a big problem and growing every day,” wrote Dr. Mark Hyman, bestselling author and medical editor for The Huffington Post. Ten percent of 65-year-olds, 25 percent of 75-year-olds, and 50 percent of 85-year-olds will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease—at a cost of $60 billion a year to society.”
With the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia becoming more prevalent, the matter of care is likely to become a common conversation in most households. Fortunately, Kerry Mills and others remind us there are options. By considering modifications shared by experts, you can help create a home environment that is safe and supportive where your loved one can enjoy a positive and loving environment that can only be found in the presence of family.