Home Safety Tips for People With Dementia

Ask people with some health challenges if they’d like to live in a facility or their own home, and the answer for most is easy: home. But, when one of their health challenges is dementia, it can become a little more difficult to live at home safely.

Woman adjusting thermostat in her home

djedzura / istock

Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia can affect memory, judgment, communication, behavior and physical ability, all of which can complicate living at home. And, although there are some good nursing homes and assisted living centers out there, they’re just not the same as being in your own home.

So, what can you do to help yourself or a loved one be able to remain at home longer? What resources are available to help?

  • Medication Assistance Ensuring that medication is accurately taken by the person with dementia is critical to the success of living at home independently. From medication administration systems to a nurse visiting and dispensing the proper amount of medicine, there are multiple ways to make sure medications are properly taken.
  • Home Evaluation by Physical or Occupational Therapist Many rehabilitation agencies have physical and occupational therapists who will schedule a visit to your home to conduct a safety assessment. They can evaluate things such as flooring, house layout, trip hazards, bathing safety, and stair-climbing ability. Based on their evaluation, you can implement or adjust the home to decrease safety risks.
  • Good Nutrition Meal-making and nutrition are extremely important if someone wants to successfully remain at home. Many people with dementia require assistance in this task, and there are several options to provide the needed help.
  • Home Health Care Home healthcare agencies can provide medical and non-medical assistance for people with dementia. For example, they can check blood pressure and provide insulin shots, and they can also go grocery shopping and make the meal.
  • Use an Emergency Alert System If you or your loved one falls or needs assistance, an emergency system allows him to get help with the push of a button.
  • GPS Monitoring Consider the use of Global Positioning Service (GPS) tracking equipment to prevent wandering. There are many different systems but a popular option is a GPS tracking watch.
  • Door Alarms Some people who live at home with a loved one who has dementia use a door alarm to alert you of when the person attempts to go outside so that you can provide adequate supervision.
  • Driving Concerns If the person is not safe to drive, make sure the car keys are not available.
  • Check the Hot Water Temperature Make sure the hot water temperature is not too high. Burns can develop very quickly, especially on the fragile skin of an older adult.
  • Consider Disconnecting the Stove and Oven The stove and oven can quickly the starting location of a fire if burners are left on and forgotten. If these appliances are disconnected, that reduces the risk of a fire significantly.
  • Remove Weapons Guns, rifles and other weapons should not be stored on the same property that the person with dementia lives.
  • Monitor the Temperature Because the person with dementia may not always know how to interpret or express their surroundings, ensure that the temperature of the house is not too cold in the winter or too hot in the summer.
  • Program the Phone Make sure the phone is programmed with the phone numbers of emergency medical contacts, facilities, family members and doctors. Place this same list of phone numbers near the phone in case the person forgets how to use the programming feature of the phone.
  • Nanny Camera A nanny cam can be installed in the house in a location that still honors the privacy of the person. For example, you could place the camera near the floor so that it only shows a couple of feet high but sweeps across the room, or by the door of the house to monitor door traffic. Take note, however, that even with strategic camera placing, caution must be exercised to avoid infringing on the privacy and dignity of a loved one.
  • Periodically Evaluate the Safety of the Person In your desire to assist your loved one with her wish to remain in her own home, make sure that she really is still safe to do so. Have a plan for when she needs more care than is currently possible in the home setting so that if she needs it, you've had the time to conduct research on community services and facilities.
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  • Alzheimer's Association. Home Safety and Alzheimer's. Accessed July 28, 2013. http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-home-safety.asp
  • Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center. Home Safety for People with Alzheimer's Disease. http://www.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/home_safety_for_people_with_alzheimers_disease.pdf

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.