Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition that affects memory and brain function, eventually making it hard to do even the simplest tasks. This leaves the person open to a number of physical, emotional, and financial risks. That’s why it’s important for caregivers and family members to take precautions to safeguard their loved ones with Alzheimer’s and prevent unnecessary harm.
If you’re caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease, consider these expert tips to help keep your loved one safe.
Safety Starts at Home
Whether the person with Alzheimer’s is living in their own home, in your home, or in a retirement community or assisted care facility, it may be time for a safety makeover. Ideally, you should find a way to keep your loved one’s environment as familiar as possible without making them feel restricted. Consider these ways to eliminate potential hazards in the home:
- Remove or secure items that could be dangerous, including cleaning products, knives, firearms, flammable liquids, matches, medications, and alcohol.
- Install safety devices such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Test them often to make sure they work.
- Remove unstable furnishings, knickknacks, rugs, extension cords, etc. that may cause your loved one to trip or fall.
- Adjust locks on the outside of the home to discourage wandering. Remove locks on inside doors to keep your loved one from locking themselves in.
- Keep walkways well-lit and clear from things that could cause tripping.
- In the kitchen, install auto-shutoff appliances or remove appliances that could be dangerous if left on. Unplug garbage disposals. Turn off the gas to the stove, or cover or take the knobs when you’re not using it.
- Check the refrigerator regularly and throw out foods that are spoiled or past their best use dates.
- In the bathroom, use non-slip stickers to prevent falls in the tub or shower and install handrails or grab bars. Adjust the water temperature to 120 F to prevent scalding.
- In the garage or basement, limit the use of power tools and motorized lawn equipment.
Plan for Safe Travels
A trip to a favorite locale or a visit with family and friends may appeal to your loved one with Alzheimer’s. But it may also create stress and trigger symptoms of disorientation, agitation, and confusion. Consider these suggestions for planning ahead and keeping your loved one safe while traveling.
- Choose a way to travel that causes the least amount of stress and gives the greatest safety and comfort for the person with Alzheimer’s.
- Don’t overschedule activities; build in plenty of time for rest.
- Make sure your loved one has an identification card in their pocket or wears a medical bracelet.
- If you’re staying at a hotel, ask for a quiet room on the ground floor that has safety features, such as grab bars in the bathroom. Call ahead and ask what other features may be offered, such as child-proof doorknobs.
- If you’re staying with family or friends, talk about your loved one’s needs and safety concerns you may have before your trip so they can prepare their home for your visit.
Take Precautions for Extreme Weather and Disasters
Even the safest home can be threatened during times of natural disaster. Planning ahead for extreme weather and other emergencies can help you and your loved one with Alzheimer’s feel more secure.
- Stock an emergency kit for your loved one, including items such as:
- A change of clothes and shoes
- A list of medications and medical history
- Copies of insurance cards
- Doctors’ names and contact information
- Water and nonperishable snacks
- Other necessary items such as a spare pair of prescription glasses or incontinence products
- Create an evacuation plan that takes into account your loved one’s special needs (such as a walker or wheelchair). Don’t forget to plan for your loved one’s pets, too.
- If your loved one lives in a residential building or goes to an adult day care, know their procedures for care or evacuation during bad weather or disasters, and who to contact in case of emergency.
Encourage Driving Safety
As the disease progresses, you may need to limit your loved one from getting behind the wheel. Not only does this keep your loved one safe, but it also prevents them from accidentally harming others. Consider these expert suggestions for allowing your loved one with Alzheimer’s to remain independent, while keeping them safe:
- Assign driving responsibilities to friends or family members, or arrange a taxi or ride-share service for your loved one.
- Find ways to reduce the person’s need to drive. Have prescription medicines, groceries, or meals delivered.
- Ask your doctor to advise the person not to drive and write a letter or prescription stating that the person with dementia must not drive. You can then use the document to remind your family member what’s been decided.
People with Alzheimer’s may also have other health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or depression, that require daily medication. Since your loved one may not be able to remember if they took their medication or the proper dose, keeping track of all their medications and making sure they’re kept in a secure place becomes more important as the disease progresses.
- Keep a current list of prescribed and over-the-counter medications and dosages to share with all your loved one’s health care providers.
- When a new medication is prescribed, ask your doctor or pharmacist to check for potential drug interactions or other side effects, such as allergies in your loved one.
- Use a medication minder or pillbox to track daily use of prescribed drugs and OTC treatments (such as vitamins).
- Keep the surplus in an out-of-sight, out-of-mind place or in a locked cupboard to prevent misuse by your loved one.
Even with all the precautions you can take inside the home, one of the biggest hazards for people with Alzheimer’s is beyond their front door. As the disease goes on, it’s common for them to become confused even in familiar settings and wander off or get lost. Research shows that 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander at least once. Consider taking these steps to help prevent this potentially dangerous situation:
- If the person is still able to drive safely, consider installing a GPS device to help guide the way for them. If the person is no longer driving, remove access to car keys.
- Consider enrolling the person with dementia in a wandering response service. Your loved one would have a profile including medical and emergency contact information. They’ll wear a bracelet to help identify them.
- Ask neighbors, friends, and family to call if they see your loved one wandering, lost, or not dressed to be outside.
- Keep a recent, close-up photo of the person on hand to give to police, should you need to.
- Create a list of places your loved one might wander to, such as past jobs, former homes, places of worship, or a favorite restaurant.
Look for Signs of Abuse
People who live with Alzheimer's are particularly at risk for physical, emotional, and financial abuse. And because they may not be able to clearly recall or talk about what happened, these situations are often not reported.
Caregivers and family members of people living with Alzheimer’s should know about any new and unexplainable injuries or if the person suddenly withdraws from normal activities or becomes unusually depressed. Keep an eye out for unusual withdrawals from checking or savings accounts and charges to credit cards, since they could be signs of financial abuse.
Sadly, people with Alzheimer’s are often mistreated by the very people who should protect them: their caregivers. If you notice aggressive interactions between a caregiver and a person with Alzheimer’s, it may be time to provide the caregiver a break or look into other options for care.
If you’re concerned that someone you know or care for is the victim of abuse or neglect, call the Alzheimer's Association (800-272-3900) or Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116).
Photo Credit: E+ / Getty Images
Alzheimer’s Association: “What is Alzheimer’s Disease?” “Safety.”
CDC: “Fast Facts: Preventing Elder Abuse.”
National Center on Elder Abuse: “How at Risk for Abuse are People with Dementia?”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health: “Home Safety and Alzheimer’s Disease.”
Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring: “What do we know about strategies to manage dementia-related wandering? A scoping review.”