Like many seniors, those who have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia often want to remain in their homes as long as possible. Many families choose to accommodate newfound challenges at home soon after a loved one’s dementia diagnosis.
However, most major forms of dementia — including Alzheimer’s disease — progress over time. This means that middle- and late-stage dementia symptoms pose different, more severe risks than early stages of the disease.
While different people will experience different symptoms, Alzheimer’s typically affects judgment, temperament, understanding of time and place, and physical abilities such as balance. These changes in both the brain and the body can complicate home safety for seniors.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Fire Administration, and AAA all reveal that seniors have a greater risk of common accidents than the general population. Learn about six specific dementia and Alzheimer’s safety risks for seniors living at home so you can prioritize your loved one’s safety.
Difficulties with balance and coordination often emerge in the early and middle dementia stages. Falls send more than 3 million older adults to the emergency room each year, the CDC estimates. These stumbles can lead to everything from a head injury to a hip fracture — or can even prove fatal.
The following fall prevention strategies can help with dementia and balance issues:
People who have early- to middle-stage dementia may struggle with keeping track of medications sometimes even before being diagnosed by a doctor. Help your parent with Alzheimer’s manage medications and stay organized with pillboxes and reminder apps.
Older adults are at increased risk of fire deaths compared to the general population, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Cooking stands out as one of the biggest contributors to this worrisome statistic.
Caring for someone with dementia can be made easier with a few kitchen adjustments:
The American Academy of Neurology presents several standards for evaluating if a senior who has dementia should still be driving: the Clinical Dementia Rating Scale, caregiver observations, traffic citation and crash history, and impulsive personality characteristics. Experts also state that seniors might start to avoid driving on their own as memory problems intensify.
Seniors with middle-stage and late-stage dementia can no longer operate a vehicle safely.
People age 65 and older are more likely to own guns than the general population, according to researchers from the American Public Health Association. However, when they have access to guns, people who have dementia become a potential danger to themselves, their caretakers, and others.
Specifically, mental health dementia symptoms — including increased anxiety, hallucinations, and aggression — can affect a person’s ability to safely handle a firearm. It’s best to discuss these risks early on in the diagnosis, when cognition and communication haven’t been severely affected, and to mutually agree on a “firearms retirement date” by which to give up guns in the home.
Getting lost while traveling occurs in early-stage dementia, but it can progress to a dangerous level later. In extreme cases, those with dementia may go missing, wander into traffic, or sustain physical industries.
Continual wandering may indicate a need for 24-hour supervision. To help minimize wandering, implement the following senior safety precautions at home:
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
Though caregivers may be able to manage early- and middle-stage dementia behaviors at the home, nearly all late-stage dementia seniors require more intensive care and 24-hour supervision. To learn more about memory care and whether it might be a good fit for your loved one, talk by phone or chat online with one of A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors.
American Academy of Neurology. “Practice parameter update: Evaluation and management of driving risk in dementia.” https://n.neurology.org/content/74/16/1316.full
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Older Adult Falls.” https://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/falls/index.html
Mertens, Brian and Sorenson, Susan. “Current Considerations About the Elderly and Firearms.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3487668/
National Institute on Aging. “Home Safety and Alzheimer’s Disease.” https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/home-safety-and-alzheimers-disease
U.S. Fire Administration. “Fire safety outreach materials for older adults.” https://www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/older_adults.html#:~:text=Older%20adults%20face%20the%20greatest,In%202015%2C%20older%20adults%3A&text=Had%20a%202.7%20times%20greater,fire%20than%20the%20total%20population