Dementia safety risks at home

By Kara Lewis – June 21, 2021
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 below about six specific dementia and Alzheimer’s safety risks for seniors living at home so you can prioritize your loved one’s safety.

 

1. Balance problems

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:

  • 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

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.

 

3. Kitchen safety hazards: fires and burns

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.

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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 may indicate 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 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.

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