Accommodating Alzheimer’s Disease at Home
Guest Post by Paul Denik
Millions of people live with Alzheimer’s disease, some residing in assisted living facilities, while others live at home, cared for by their families. These loved ones serve as unpaid caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Dementia care is a unique form of caregiving. Because Alzheimer’s disease progressively impairs a person’s cognitive, behavioral, and physical abilities, caregivers must attend to a diverse and constantly evolving set of needs. Alzheimer’s disease can cause unpredictable behavior, anxiety, and confusion in sufferers, leading to frustration and stress for caregivers and patients alike. The high demands of Alzheimer’s disease caregiving require many caregivers to leave their jobs, and because the disease can last for many years before death, the loss of work causes considerable financial strain to caregiving families. And these challenges don’t even touch the pain of watching someone you love forget their own family and history.
On top of the financial, emotional, and labor strain of Alzheimer’s disease caregiving is the need for a safe caregiving environment. Keeping a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease out of nursing facilities requires adapting the home to the demands of dementia. In addition to preventing accidents, home modifications reduce stress for both the Alzheimer’s patient and the caregiver.
As AgingCare.com explains, one of the priorities when adapting a home for Alzheimer’s disease is preventing access to potentially dangerous areas. This includes stairwells and areas where hazardous chemicals, sharp implements, and power equipment are stored, such as garages and kitchen cupboards. To prevent access to an entire room, caregivers should install locks above the Alzheimer’s patient’s line of sight, and paint doors to match the surrounding walls to prevent attempts to access the space. For cupboards and closets, child-proof locks are often sufficient. However, caregivers should avoid locking everything up. Especially in the early stages, Alzheimer’s patients desire to retain a sense of independence. Keep permitted items in clearly organized and accessible areas to reduce the desire to access prohibited spaces.
While the kitchen is a hub of household activity, it’s a dangerous place for Alzheimer’s disease patients to be unsupervised. Caregivers can prevent a loved one from cooking without supervision by removing knobs from the oven or placing safety covers over them. A monitored fire detection system adds an extra layer of protection. Caregivers should also take care to promptly remove expired food from the kitchen to prevent accidental food poisoning.
Alzheimer’s disease can impairs patients’ coordination. To reduce fall risk at home, caregivers should install ramps over entry steps, remove area rugs, secure cords off of the floor, and maintain clear, wide pathways. If building a ramp themselves, caregivers should measure carefully to keep the grade at or under 5 percent. In the bathroom, grab bars and a step-in shower offer essential protection against falls, while slip-resistant floors and night lights further boost safety.
Caregivers should also account for visual issues related to Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease can lead to problems related to depth perception and contrast. Patients have trouble distinguishing items in rooms with minimal color contrast. Caregivers can help loved ones locate furniture, light switches, and toilet seats by choosing items that contrast their surroundings. However, dark colors should be avoided, as the Alzheimer’s patient may perceive large, dark objects as holes. Bright and even lighting is also important for helping Alzheimer’s patients interpret their surroundings accurately. Avoid lamps, as the shadows they cast can be distressing for people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Remaining at home can be a wonderful comfort to a person with Alzheimer’s disease. However, family caregiving only works when the home environment is safe and adapted to the patient’s needs. While these suggestions don’t encompass every need that an Alzheimer’s patient might experience, it’s a helpful starting point for families preparing to care for a loved one at home.
Paul Denikin got into DIY home repair projects after his daughter, Maggie, was born with special needs, as he wanted to make his home more accessible for her. He created DadKnowsDIY.com was created to share resources and to offer home improvement how-to’s and other accessibility information.