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Alzheimer’s Safety Risks at Home

Kara Lewis
By Kara LewisAugust 3, 2020
Elderly woman cooking pasta sauce on her stovetop.

Like many seniors, those with Alzheimer’s 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-stage and late-stage dementia symptoms pose different, more severe risks than early stages of the disease.

While different people will experience different symptoms, dementia typically affects judgment, temperament, understanding of time and place, and physical abilities such as balance. These changes in both the body and brain 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. When caring for someone with dementia, pay attention to these six specific areas of concern, and prioritize your loved one’s safety with our tips.

1. Balance issues and dementia

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.

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The following fall prevention strategies can help with dementia and balance issues:

  • Minimize trip hazards like rugs, electrical cords, and low tables.
  • Consider installing grab bars and handrails.
  • Encourage your loved one to use a walker.
  • Invest in slippers and slip-free socks.
  • Keep necessities like tissues and a glass of water within reach of the bed.
  • Make sure your parent stays hydrated.
  • Regularly visit the eye doctor.
  • Speak with your loved one’s doctor to discuss medication side effects and underlying conditions.

2. Forgetting to take medications regularly and on time

Struggling with medication management is another indication of early- to middle-stage dementia, often occurring before a doctor has even diagnosed the condition. As this medication management guide recommends, help your parent with Alzheimer’s stay organized with pillboxes and reminder apps.

3. Kitchen safety hazards: fires and burns

Despite representing just 15% of the population, older adults account for 40% of fire deaths, according to a 2015 report by the U.S. Fire Administration. Cooking stands out as one of the biggest contributors to this worrisome statistic.

Starting a fire while cooking can be a catalyst for families to seek memory care, as it often indicates that a senior can no longer handle activities of daily living (ADLs) on their own and is at risk for burns.

Caring for someone with dementia can be made easier with a few kitchen adjustments:

  • Install auto shut-off devices, or use signs to remind seniors to turn off the stove and oven.
  • Put plugs in unused electrical outlets.
  • Turn pot handles inward to minimize the risk of pots falling.
  • Buy two-handled pans for easy, stable lifting.
  • Clear kitchen clutter, especially near burners.
  • Test smoke detectors regularly.
  • Keep a small fire extinguisher in the home with instructions on how to use it.

4. Senior driving risks and dementia

The American Academy of Neurology presents several standards for evaluating if a senior with 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.

5. Guns and senior safety

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 with dementia become a potential danger to both themselves and their caretakers.

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 seniors have a clearer grasp on understanding and communication, and to mutually agree on a “firearms retirement date” by which to give up guns in the home.

6. Senior wandering and getting lost

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 indicates a need for 24-hour supervision. To help minimize wandering, implement the following senior safety precautions at home:

  • Encourage your senior loved one to wear a tracking bracelet and carry identification.
  • Notify local authorities and neighbors that your loved one wanders often.
  • Keep a recent picture of your parent to show police in the event of an emergency situation.
  • Lock exterior doors.
  • Consider installing an alarm system.

Though many caregivers can manage many early-stage and middle-stage dementia behaviors within the home, nearly all late-stage dementia seniors require more intensive care and 24-hour supervision. To find out 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.


Sources:

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

Kara Lewis
Author
Kara Lewis

Kara Lewis is a content writer at A Place for Mom. She’s worked in writing, editing, and creative strategy for several years, most recently at Andrews McMeel Universal, Hallmark, and Gannett Media. Her writing has appeared in Bustle, Alma, and The Kansas City Star, among other outlets. She has won awards for digitally conscious journalism, investigative reporting, magazine writing, and poetry.

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