Alzheimer’s disease requires home modifications.
Deciding to take in a senior loved one who has Alzheimer’s disease was not an easy decision. Now that the senior will soon be living with you, there are a few home improvements you should make. These can help the senior and your entire family feel safer and more comfortable.
Before you can start making any changes, however, it pays to know more about how Alzheimer’s can complicate things.
Problems With Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease is a neurological condition that tends to affect the elderly. The National Institute on Aging explains that it damages the brain, making it harder to remember correctly and think clearly. Eventually, this can lead to problems with motor functions and mental conditions like paranoia and hallucinations. In the beginning stages, your loved one will still be able to carry out basic tasks, but as the disease progresses, the memory loss becomes prominent (and dangerous), and is accompanied by other notable signs and symptoms such as confusion, inability to recognize familiar faces and places, and notable personality and behavioral changes.
Many seniors with Alzheimer’s cannot live on their own, especially once they have progressed past the mild stage of the disease. They have trouble concentrating and remembering, which can be very dangerous when the senior tries cooking meals or driving to the store. As the disease impacts the brain, balance, and coordination are affected. A senior with Alzheimer’s can find themselves dropping things and falling more often. Some can even forget where they live and wander off, unable to return home.
For all of these reasons, you need to focus on improving the safety of your home for your senior loved one with Alzheimer’s in order to create an environment that is conducive to their changing needs. Before you begin making any changes, talk to the senior and their doctor to discover any specific needs or concerns. This can help you decide what home improvements to tackle first.
Because falls are a common problem in these situations, they are one of the first potential hazards you should address. Angie’s List has some great advice on preventing falls in your home. Start by removing or taping down any throw rugs or extension cords. That includes the bath mat near the shower and even the welcome mat at the front door. Install railings in all stairwells, and add grab rails to places where the senior could easily slip, such as inside the bathtub or shower and near the toilet. Then make sure the lighting is clear everywhere in your home, especially near steps.
To help protect against other injuries caused by Alzheimer’s, BrightFocus Foundation has another set of recommendations. Turn your water heater down so no one gets burned. Check that all of your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work, and change the batteries each season. If necessary, consider adding childproof latches on cabinets, including the medicine cabinet to prevent accidental overdoses. If you have any alcohol or firearms in the house, both need to be locked up. While on the topic of locks, consider installing locks out of reach to prevent wandering, and remove locks from bathrooms and bedrooms to prevent your loved one from locking themselves in.
Helping With Memory Loss
Falling is not the only concern for your senior loved one’s safety. Since memory loss is such a typical problem with Alzheimer’s disease, you also have to help the senior deal with confusion over everyday items and tasks.
Labeling items might sound like overkill, but this could really help someone with Alzheimer’s make safe choices. Clearly label medicine, food, appliances, and even the knobs on a stove. You can even label drawers with their general contents so the senior can find what they’re looking for. Your loved one also might find it helpful if you label each room by putting a sign on the door or on the wall next to each entrance.
In their bedroom, keep the decor simple, as too many colors or contrasts can be confusing. But you want to make sure to include familiar pictures and items so the senior can remember it is their bedroom. Mementos, heirlooms, and family photos are great here, but avoid using them as a way to test their memory. It can be upsetting and frustrating for both of you when memories start to fade, so use keepsakes as a comfort as opposed to a pop quiz.
One tough problem is wandering off. Sometimes, a senior with Alzheimer’s can forget they live at home and will leave, only to get lost and not remember how to get home again. In addition to installing locks on exterior doors for which only you have a key to unlock, consider setting up a motion detector or alarm on the door to alert you when it is opened. While you do not want to trap the senior inside, you also don’t want them wandering outside without supervision. Let neighbors know the situation so they can be on the lookout, and provide them with your contact information so that they can reach you quickly if they ever need to.
A Few Changes Will Help
Thankfully, you shouldn’t need to make major renovations so a senior with Alzheimer’s is safe living in your home. Because the senior will likely face problems with memory, balance, and cognition, make sure your throw rugs are taped down. Then add latches to cabinets that may contain safety hazards, label items, and drawers, and keep the bedroom simple but with some personal items. Taking in your senior loved one was a tough decision, so these home improvements can help make that decision work for both of you.
Jim Vogel co-founded ElderAction along with his wife, Caroline, after they became caregivers for their aging parents. His main dedication is to promote senior health and provide valuable information to seniors and their caregivers to help ensure our nation’s seniors are able to thrive throughout their golden years.
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