August 4, 2023
Home is where the heart is. It’s also where multiple dangers for seniors exist. For older adults with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, those risks are even greater, as cognitive decline can inhibit caution. Falls, burns, wounds, toxic ingestions, home exits and other hazards pose serious threats to those with memory issues.
An estimated one third of people with dementia in the U.S. live alone, and one in seven with Alzheimer’s does. That’s a lot of seniors at risk, right where they live. Even those who live with others fall prey to dangers in the home imposed by changes in judgment, behavior, sense of time and place, physical and sensory ability.
The Kitchen: Super Danger Zone!
The kitchen is where everyone wants to congregate, no matter how much space the rest of the abode affords.
But for seniors with dementia, this beloved hangout is quite literally a hazard hotspot.
Knives and other sharp utensils can inflict critical bleeding or puncture wounds. Stovetops, ovens, toasters and microwaves can cause serious burns, and left-on gas burners emit carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other deadly toxins. Scalding water from the sink poses another burn risk, not to mention the threat of in-sink garbage grinders. Electric appliances that slice, dice, pulverize, whip, and bring every modern convenience to our daily lives can be gravely dangerous to someone with dementia.
Even faux fruits and vegetables can be mistaken for the real thing and potentially cause choking.
Despite the myriad dangers, several measures can be taken to safeguard not only the kitchen, but the entire home. Check out this comprehensive home safety checklist from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Safeguarding the Kitchen
Keep sharp utensils out of reach
Store knives and sharp objects in areas that are hard to reach, such as cabinets up high. You may also want to install cabinet locks; there are several simple, affordable options with or without keys in hardware and children’s stores.
Invest in appliances with automatic shut-off features
Consider disconnecting the garbage disposal and lock up or remove other non-essential appliances.
Keep water at a safe temperature
Adjust the water heater such that it never exceeds 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures above can burn skin within three seconds. As people with dementia sometimes have trouble discerning between hot and cold, you may want to install an automatic water thermometer and mark all faucets with bold red and blue colors.
Danger-proof the stove
Install knob covers or remove knobs altogether. If possible, turn off the gas when the stove is not in use.
Other Risks in the Home (And How to Keep Your Loved One Safe)
Slippery showers and tubs are huge fall risks, especially for those less cognizant of their danger. Install grab bars in the tub/shower and near the toilet; apply textured mats and stickers to slippery surfaces. You might even consider replacing a step-in tub with a walk-in shower. A foam rubber cover on the bathtub faucet will cushion bumps to the head and other body parts.
Devastating falls are most likely to occur on a staircase. If moving your loved one to a residence without stairs is not feasible, power chair lifts can be purchased or rented. At the very least, sturdy handrails marked clearly with a bright color should be installed on all staircases, as well as taut carpet or grips on each step.
Loose rugs, cords and clutter
Remove all rugs and carpets that aren’t firmly affixed to the floor, and make sure floors are free and clear of cords, clutter and other tripping hazards. A tidy home is a safe home!
It may go without saying, but guns and other lethal weapons in the hands of someone confused or no longer aware of their danger can have devastating effects on everyone in the vicinity. Weapons should be locked securely in a gun safe or removed from the home.
The bathroom, laundry room, kitchen, basement and garage are all common places to store toxic cleaning chemicals. Colorful liquids, powders and crystals can look like tempting consumables to someone with cognitive decline. Remove, lock away or store all such supplies in an out-of-reach area.
It’s all too easy for someone with memory issues to misuse prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Following a proper dosing regimen can be confusing and mentally taxing, and many pills look like candy. Take inventory of all medications in the home, making sure they belong to your loved one, and discard any expired prescriptions. If possible, keep medications out of reach of your senior and administer them yourself.
Electrical cords, outlets and heating implements
In addition to being a tripping hazard, electric cords threaten shock, electrocution or fire for someone no longer familiar with their purpose. Make sure all cords are unfrayed, in good condition, and as close to what they’re powering as possible. Check that outlet plates are tight and firmly affixed to the wall and plug plastic covers into lesser-used outlets. Monitor the use of electric blankets, space heaters and heating pads, which can cause burns or other injuries.
Poorly lit areas
Dark areas are not only fall hazards, they can also be very disorienting to people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Add extra lighting in entryways, landings and stairways, and install timers to go on and off at regular times of the day. Illuminate bedrooms, hallways and bathrooms with nightlights.
Some house plants are poisonous to both pets and people. Here is a list of common poisonous house plants. Promptly discard any toxic plants.
Wandering outside the home is a common problem among those with dementia. Doors and windows with no locks or locks that are easy to access increase the risk of your loved one encountering untold dangers in the outside world. Doors and windows should remain locked at all times, especially at night when others are sleeping. Ideally, locks should be placed up high, above hand and eye level.
Safety and Memory Care
For the over six million Americans living with dementia and those who love them, the hazards of the home are abundant – and truly frightening. Maintaining a safe environment on all fronts seems nearly impossible, even for those with caregivers or others in the home. Some families choose senior communities like Barclay Friends, not only for the joy and dignity that comes with skilled, person-centered memory care, but for the blessed assurance that their loved ones are safe and secure, 24/7.
Discover the priceless peace of mind
Schedule a tour and learn more about memory care at Barclay Friends today