Caring for Alzheimer’s Seniors: Safety

Chris Hawkins Written by Chris Hawkins
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Senior Care & Assisted Living

If you’re a homecare provider for someone with Alzheimer’s, safety should be on the top of your list—safety for the individual and for those around him or her.

Caring for Alzheimer’s Seniors: Safety

In Part 3, we’ll show you ways to keep your loved one safe, from simple home organization to sophisticated tracking devices.

Is Your Alzheimer’s Senior Safe?

The National Institute on Aging recommends asking these questions if you’re concerned about leaving someone with Alzheimer’s alone:

  • Do they become confused or unpredictable under stress?
  • Do they recognize a dangerous situation such as fire?
  • Are they able to use a phone in an emergency?
  • Do they know how to get help?
  • Will they stay content in their home?
  • Do they wander and become disoriented?
  • Do they show signs of agitation, depression, or withdrawal when left alone?
  • Do they attempt to pursue former hobbies or tasks that might warrant supervision, i.e. cooking, woodworking, yard work?

Evaluating the Environment

It’s important to know what in an environment may pose a safety risk. These recommendations come from the Alzheimer’s Association, The Mayo Clinic, and the National Institute on Aging.

  • Make sure the home has smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and working fire extinguishers.
  • Install locks out of sight and/or reach, making it harder for the person to wander outside.
  • Remove locks from bathrooms so they can’t lock themselves in.
  • Use childproof latches and doorknob covers to limit access to cabinets where knives and poisonous cleaners are stored.
  • Use appliances with auto shut-off.
  • Remove the knobs from the burners on the stove.
  • Store firearms, knives, lawn mowers, power tools and grills in a secure place.
  • Keep medications in a locked area.
  • Discard toxic plants or any artificial fruits/veggies that could be mistaken for food.
  • Display your emergency number and home address by all the phones.
  • Hide a spare key outside the house in case your loved one locks you out.
  • Cover electrical outlets with childproof plugs.
  • Keep alcohol locked in a cabinet.
  • Hide plastic bags as a person may suffocate themselves.
  • Avoid clutter; keep walkways and hallways clear of things; hide extension cords; trim plants back; limit knickknacks.
  • Make sure slippery surfaces have rugs with non-skid strips.
  • Install a foam rubber faucet cover in the bathtub in case your loved one falls.
  • Lock all cars and bikes.
  • Place night lights in strategic locations.
  • Use passwords for your computers.
  • Eliminate uneven surfaces outdoors—sidewalks, walkways, porch, etc.
  • Mark step edges with reflective tape.

Pay Attention Daily

Once you’ve made the necessary changes to the environment, you’ll still need to be vigilant every day. Even something as simple as a shower can be hazardous.

  • Make sure food and drink temperatures are adequate. Don’t serve piping hot tea or food right out of the microwave.
  • Help with the controls on the shower; you may want to consider lowering the hot water temperature on the water heater to avoid scalding.
  • Install grab bars and no-slip adhesives on the tub or shower floor.
  • Make sure throw carpets or runners are properly secured.

Lost and Found: Using Location Management Systems

For an added layer of safety and peace of mind, consider a system that tracks your loved one’s whereabouts. There are a number of systems out there for a variety of needs and applications.

1. Comfort Zone (Alzheimer’s Association): A person with Alzheimer’s wears or carries a locator device or it’s attached in their care. A GPS system tracks the individual allowing family members to access their loved one’s location using the Internet or by calling the 24/7 monitoring center. Plans start at $43 a month plus a $45 activation fee

2. Project Lifesaver International works and trains local agencies (police, fire, search and rescue, etc) in their program for tracking residents with Alzheimer’s and other disorders who wander away. Over 1200 agencies in 46 states, Canada and Australia participate in Project Life Saver.

Individuals wear a small ankle or wrist transmitter that enables a local Project Lifesaver agency team to quickly track and find them. According to their website, recovery times “average 30 minutes—95% less time than standard operations.”

Costs to enroll your loved one vary by agency.

Summary

The safety of someone with Alzheimer’s can never be 100% guaranteed. But as a caregiver, you can mitigate many potentially harmful situations with first a thorough survey of your home. Then with additional safety measures such as a location management system. Finally, day-to-day vigilance goes a long way to keeping your loved one and others safe.

To find an Alzheimer’s care facility near you, search the extensive Seniorliving.org database. You’ll also find agencies that specialize in home health care for Alzheimer’s patients.

For further reading on Alzheimer’s:

“An Introduction to Alzheimer’s”

“Causes of Alzheimer’s”

“Caring for Alzheimer’s Seniors: Part 1”

“Caring for Alzheimer’s Seniors: Part 2: Incontinence.”

“How to Approach a Person with Alzheimer’s”

Updated: May 21, 2012

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