Is Your Home Safe for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s?

How does someone go about eliminating potential hazards and what changes need to be made to help keep a person with Alzheimer’s safe?

A Home Safety Checklist for Living with a Loved One with Alzheimer’s

A wide range of safety concerns may arise if you have a loved one that is living with you that has Alzheimer’s, and some modifications may never be needed. Once these changes are made, it is important to re-evaluate home safety periodically as behavior and abilities change. Keep in mind that it may not be necessary to make all of the suggested changes.

Below is a list of some room-by-room modifications and things you can do that NIH recommends when you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s:

Throughout the Home

  • Display emergency numbers and your home address near all telephones;
  • if there is still a landline phone in the house, use voicemail when you cannot answer phone calls, and set it to turn on after the fewest number of rings possible. A person with Alzheimer’s disease often may be unable to take messages or could become a victim of telephone exploitation. Turn ringers on low or off to avoid distraction and confusion. Put all portable and cell phones and equipment in a safe place so they will not be easily lost;
  • Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in or near the kitchen and all sleeping areas. Check their functioning and batteries frequently;
  • Avoid the use of flammable and volatile compounds near gas appliances. Do not store these materials in an area where a gas pilot light is used;
  • Install secure locks on all outside doors and windows;
  • Install alarms that notify you when a door or window is opened;
  • Hide a spare house key outside in case the person with Alzheimer’s disease locks you out of the house;
  • Avoid the use of extension cords if possible by placing lamps and appliances close to electrical outlets. Tack extension cords to the baseboards of a room to avoid tripping hazards;
  • Cover unused electrical outlets with childproof plugs;
  • Place red tape around floor vents, radiators, and other heating devices to deter the person with Alzheimer’s from standing on or touching them when hot;
  • Check all rooms for adequate lighting;
  • Place light switches at the top and the bottom of stairs;
  • Stairways should have at least one handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps. If possible, stairways should be carpeted or have safety grip strips. Put a gate across the stairs if the person has balance problems;
  • Keep all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) locked. Each bottle of prescription medicine should be clearly labeled with the person’s name, name of the drug, drug strength, dosage frequency, and expiration date. Child-resistant caps are available if needed;
  • Keep all alcohol in a locked cabinet or out of reach of the person with Alzheimer’s, as drinking alcohol can increase confusion;
  • Avoid clutter, which can create confusion and danger. Throw out or recycle newspapers and magazines regularly. Keep all areas where people walk free of furniture;
  • Remove all guns and other weapons from the home or lock them up. Install safety locks on guns or remove ammunition and firing pins;
  • Lock all power tools and machinery in the garage, workroom, or basement.

Outside the House

  • Keep steps sturdy and textured to prevent falls in wet or icy weather;
  • Mark the edges of steps with bright or reflective tape;
  • Consider installing a ramp with handrails as an alternative to the steps;
  • Eliminate uneven surfaces or walkways, hoses, and other objects that may cause a person to trip;
  • Restrict access to a swimming pool by fencing it with a locked gate, covering it, and closely supervising it when in use;
  • Place a small bench or table by the entry door to hold parcels while unlocking the door;
  • Make sure outside lighting is adequate. Light sensors that turn on lights automatically as you approach the house may be useful. They also may be used in other parts of the home;
  • Prune bushes and foliage well away from walkways and doorways;
  • Consider a “NO SOLICITING” sign for the front gate or door.

Entryway

  • Remove scatter rugs and throw rugs;
  • Use textured strips or non-skid wax on hardwood and tile floors to prevent slipping.

Kitchen

  • Remove scatter rugs and foam pads from the floor;
  • Install safety knobs and an automatic shut-off switch on the stove;
  • Do not use or store flammable liquids in the kitchen. Lock them in the garage or in an outside storage unit;
  • Keep a night-light in the kitchen;
  • Remove artificial fruits and vegetables or food-shaped kitchen magnets, which might appear to be edible;
  • Consider disconnecting the garbage disposal. People with Alzheimer’s may place objects or their own hands in the disposal.

Bedroom

  • Anticipate the reasons a person with Alzheimer’s disease might get out of bed, such as hunger, thirst, going to the bathroom, restlessness, and pain. Try to meet these needs by offering food and fluids and scheduling ample toileting;
  • Use a night-light;
  • Use a monitoring device to alert you to any sounds indicating a fall or other need for help. This also is an effective device for bathrooms;
  • Remove scatter rugs and throw rugs;
  • Be cautious when using electric mattress pads, electric blankets, electric sheets, and heating pads, all of which can cause burns and fires. Keep controls out of reach;
  • If the person with Alzheimer’s disease is at risk of falling out of bed, place mats next to the bed, as long as they do not create a greater risk of accident. Bed rails may also be helpful;
  • Use transfer or mobility aids.

Bathroom

  • Place nonskid adhesive strips, decals, or mats in the tub and shower. If the bathroom is uncarpeted, consider placing these strips next to the tub, toilet, and sink;
  • Consider washable wall-to-wall bathroom carpeting to prevent slipping on wet tile floors;
  • Use a raised toilet seat with handrails, or install grab bars beside the toilet;
  • Install grab bars in the tub/shower. A grab bar in contrasting color to the wall is easier to see;
  • Use a foam rubber faucet cover in the tub to prevent serious injury should the person with Alzheimer’s fall;
  • Use a plastic shower stool and a hand-held shower head to make bathing easier;
  • In the shower, tub, and sink, use a single faucet that mixes hot and cold water to avoid burns;
  • Set the water heater at 120°F to avoid scalding tap water;
  • Remove small electrical appliances from the bathroom. Cover electrical outlets.

Living Room

  • Clear electrical cords from all areas where people walk;
  • Remove scatter rugs or throw rugs. Repair or replace torn carpet;
  • Keep matches and lighters out of reach;
  • Keep the remote controls for the television, DVD player, and stereo system out of sight.

Laundry Room

  • Keep the door to the laundry room locked if possible;
  • Lock all laundry products in a cabinet. Laundry detergent pods can be fatal if eaten by accident;
  • Close and latch the doors and lids to the washer and dryer to prevent objects from being placed in the machines.

Garage/Shed/Basement

  • Inside a garage or shed, keep all potentially dangerous items, such as tools, tackle, machines, and sporting equipment either locked away in cabinets or in appropriate boxes/cases;
  • Secure and lock all motor vehicles and keep them out of sight if possible. Consider covering vehicles, including bicycles, that are not frequently used. This may reduce the possibility that the person with Alzheimer’s will think about leaving;
  • Keep all toxic materials, such as paint, fertilizers, gasoline, or cleaning supplies, out of view. Either put them in a high, dry place, or lock them in a cabinet;
  • Keep walkways clear of debris and clutter, and place overhanging items out of reach.

If You Cannot Make Modifications Yourself

If you are not handy or need professional guidance to make your home accessible for your loved one with Alzheimer’s, you should consider the following:

  • Hire a Professional Organizer: Think about hiring a Professional Organizer to help you organize and declutter, making rooms less crowded and therefore less of a fall hazard. You can find a directory of Certified Professional Organizers (CPO) by visiting the website http://www.certifiedprofessionalorganizers.org.
  • Find an Aging in Place Specialist to make your home accessible. You can find a directory of Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) by visiting the website of the certifying organization – the National Association of Home Builders, at http://www.nahb.org.

If you live in Northern Virginia, be sure to check out the Trusted Referrals of Other Senior-Serving Professionals listed on our website. Some of these recommendations may be helpful in making your home more accessible and safer for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.

When Aging-in-Place is No Longer an Option

When your loved one can no longer age-in-place, it is important to help make sure that he or she will receive the care needed without worry or financial struggle. To do this, it’s imperative to be prepared for ongoing care needs. It’s never too early or too late to get started. Reach out to us to see how we can help!

Medicaid Asset Protection for Loved Ones with Dementia

At the Farr Law Firm, we are dedicated to helping protect seniors and individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, contact us to make an appointment for a no-cost consultation:

Fairfax Medicaid Planning: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Planning: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Planning: 301-519-8041
DC Medicaid Planning: 202-587-2797
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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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