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Dementia-proofing Your House

It is quite possible for people with dementia to live in their own homes for quite a long time, if care is taken to make their homes safe.  In the same way that new parents “child-proof” their homes when bringing home a new baby, those who care for a friend or loved one with dementia should “dementia-proof” the house to ensure that any safety hazards are removed or at least minimized.  Here are some tips for doing this:

1.  Go through your home and examine it through the eyes of someone with dementia.  Think about the person’s physical and cognitive limitations, and try to discern what might cause a problem for him.

2.  Lock dangerous areas, or disguise them.  A number of different strategies have been used for making it difficult for a person with dementia to recognize a door.  As the person’s vision becomes increasingly two-dimensional, a black square in front of a door appears to be a hole in the floor.  A door that is painted the same color as the walls on either side is harder to find.  And so on.

3.  Keep a list of emergency phone numbers where it can be easily accessed.

4.  Make sure fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and other safety devices are in good working order.  Remember to change their batteries when necessary.

5.  Place locks in hard-to-find places.  Install locks either higher or lower than expected on external doors to help prevent wandering.  Be sure to keep a spare key handy where you can find it if you need to.  Remove the locks on doors to bedrooms and bathrooms, to prevent the person being accidentally locked inside.

6.  Keep doorways, halls, stairways, bathrooms, and other walkways well lit.  Use night lights to prevent disorientation.

7.  Remove and disable guns and other weapons.  Strange as it may sound, a person with dementia may mistakenly believe that a family member or friend is an intruder.

8.  Be sure medications are stored in a locked cabinet or drawer.  There are devices available that will help a person to remember when to take medications.

9.  Keep floors and other surfaces free of rugs or other clutter that might cause a person to trip and fall.

10.  Set the temperature of food and water heaters and other devices at a level more appropriate for someone who has trouble determining if something is too hot or cold.

11.  Be sure not to create a home that is too restrictive, or makes the person feel uncomfortable.  It is her home, after all.  For her to feel fully independent, she should feel as if she is free to move around as she always has.

(Adapted from information presented at http://www.alz.org.)

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