Dementia awareness begins at home. Give yourself a peace of mind by safeguarding your home and making it a dementia-proof sanctuary.
Home is where the heart is, as the saying goes, and this is especially pertinent to the lives of those living with dementia. For them, each new day sees them waking to a different environment where yesterday’s reassuring familiarity is replaced with today’s uncertainty. From the utensils in the drawer to their own reflection in the mirror, their inability to recognise the setting of their own abodes makes navigation around the house a huge challenge and, in some cases, even dangerous. Studies by the National Fire Data Center in the U.S. have shown that people over the age of 65 have a 2.5 times greater risk of dying in a kitchen fire than the general population. Hence, it is imperative for the family and caregivers of people with dementia to create a home environment that is as safe as possible for them before something happens. “Home modifications must be done to suit the individual needs as their severity and level of help required will be different,” says Chong Ying Ying, Centre Manager at two of ADA’s Family of Wisdom daycare centres. We explore several ways in which you can dementia-proof your home and share useful tips on minimising household dangers for your loved ones with dementia.
Keep It Simple
The first thing to do is to survey your home thoroughly and see if there are any ways you can simplify the environment. As dementia intensifies, it becomes more difficult for persons with the disease to process environmental information. Even the most commonplace furniture and set-up can overload their minds with environmental inputs and severely disorientate them. Create more open spaces by getting rid of unwanted objects, keeping things as straightforward and fool-proof as possible. For instance, pathways to common places like the kitchen and bathroom should be direct and free of obstacles. Ensure that rugs are either removed or tacked down to prevent slippage.
People with dementia are prone to wandering. Mark out danger zones and keep them off-limits by securing the doors to them, while not making them feel trapped. “It is not a good idea to keep people with dementia locked up at home as they will get frustrated and exhibit aggression when they realise they are locked up,” explains Ying Ying. A tip is to disguise your doors by hanging drapes or photo murals over them. Also, avoid rearranging the furniture unnecessarily since it might further confuse people with dementia. A simple home is a safe home.
The bathroom can be one of the most dangerous places for a person with dementia. Hence, it is paramount to pay special attention to this commonly frequented area. Think in terms of making it safe for a child. Install grab bars at strategic locations and textured stickers to slippery surfaces; bear in mind that dementia makes the brain lose the ability to function effectively, leading to increased difficulty in movement and the risk of falling. To prevent your loved ones from accidentally locking themselves in, remove locks from the bathroom door so that help is readily available. Other tips to dementia-proof your bathroom include placing seating in the shower and setting a warm but safe water temperature. Minimising any potential threat in the bathroom would go a long way in easing your mind.
Next to bathrooms, the kitchen is the next danger zone around the house. It is also one of the most accessible areas, and is laden with risks. First, keep sharp objects like knives, skewers, and graters out of plain sight. Make sure that appliances like ovens and blenders are unplugged when not in use and securely stored to prevent them from becoming fire hazards. Consider installing a child-proof lock on the oven to prevent it from being turned on and forgotten. Some households even remove knobs from the stove and replace them with hidden gas valves or switches for optimal safety. Lastly, do a fridge clean-out by removing medications and anything expired to prevent your loved ones from ingesting them by accident.
Light Up Lives
Safety measures around the house would not be complete without adequate lighting. Installing night lights in bedrooms, bathrooms, and along hallways can help prevent falls for those who frequently wander at night. Another cheap but useful installation you can make is to make light switches easier to locate by applying glow in the dark tape over them. When lighting up your house, try to create even lighting that is consistent throughout the house as disproportionate lighting can be disorienting to a dementia patient.
Soften bright lights and reduce glare that may agitate them. Use lights with dimmers so that you can adjust the lighting of a room to one that is comfortable and safe for someone with dementia. Doing so can also reduce shadows that might trigger confusion. In the day, diffuse sunlight while keeping rooms bright and welcoming by fixing blinds and shades. Simple tweaks like these go a long way in keeping your loved ones safe.
Label, Label, Label
Sometimes the simplest way to memory-proof your abode is to label everything. Doing so provides visual cues to both direct and deter someone with dementia while giving them independence. Paste a “BATHROOM” sign or the universal symbol for the toilet on the bathroom door, or attach symbols of a fork and spoon outside the cutlery drawer. Mark hot and cold faucets in the shower with large, appropriately coloured letters. Make sure that whatever system of labelling you use is clear and easily understood by the person they are meant for.