Staying Safe with Dementia
Caring for a family member with dementia is an experience that is challenging and in many ways, life altering. Safety becomes of utmost importance during this time. Here’s a quick guide for caregivers on safety measures for dementia patients.
There are more than 3.7 million Indians living with various forms of dementia and the numbers are expected to double by 2030, says the The Dementia India Report 2010. A report by Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India (ARDSI) describes Dementia as, ‘a syndrome usually chronic, characterized by a progressive, global deterioration in intellect including memory, learning, orientation, language, comprehension and judgement due to disease of the brain. It mainly affects older people; only 2% of cases start before the age of 65 years. After this, the prevalence doubles with every five year increment in age. Dementia is one of the major causes of disability in late-life.’ While a diagnosis of dementia can change not just the patient’s life, it can also change everything for the patient’s family, often the primary caregivers. It can be a challenging road to navigate but with the right support and information, the task could become marginally easier. In this feature we bring you one important aspect, every caregiver of a dementia patient should take note of: SAFETY MEASURES.
As dementia progresses a person’s physical and mental faculties deteriorate and can impact their judgement, behaviour as well as sense of time and place. Hence it becomes imperative to adapt the house to these changes and make it safe to live in and safeguard the person from potential falls and injuries.
A four step process can help you prevent any accidents and worries.
- Assess the house thoroughly to identify potential hazards
- Remove all potentially dangerous material/ substances from reach
- Make suitable changes across the house to make it accident free
- Install an emergency plan and update it regularly
Here is a quick guide to what to look out for –
Remove/ hide potentially dangerous substances across the house
Due to the disease, the patient may not understand that swallowing foreign substances could cause choking or poisoning. Hence, take following precautions –
- Lock cabinets and rooms that contain toxic chemicals
- Lock up all medications. Keep track of how many pills are being taken
- Hide potentially dangerous items like razor blades
- Remove any toxic plants from the room
- Don’t let food spoil in the refrigerator or pantry
- Be prepared for the unusual as some patients may eat items like paper, gravel, dirt or soap
- Make sure the person wears non-skid shoes
- Reduce clutter
- Remove extra rugs, extension cords and other obstacles
- Don’t let pets sleep in traffic areas
- Avoid rearranging furniture
- Wipe up spills immediately
- Make staircases safe. Keep them well lit, provide handrails on both sides, make sure steps are even and uniformly deep
- Make sure lighting is evenly distributed to avoid hot spots and shadows
- Install night lights on the path to the bathroom.
Bathroom safety tips –
- Install devices such as grab bars, bath seats and commode chairs
- Put non slip mats in bathroom, tubs and showers
- Remove electrical appliances to reduce the chance electrocution or shock
- Make sure water doesn’t stand anywhere on the floor of the bathroom
- Take precaution against scalding hot water. Avoid heating water to high temperatures. Install anti-scald devices on taps. Help the person test water temperatures and mix cold water with hot
Kitchen safety tips –
A person with Alzheimer’s may lose sensitivity to temperature extremes hence it is imperative to make your kitchen safe. Potential hazards include toaster ovens, stoves, coffee makers, power tools etc.
- Discourage the person from entering the kitchen without you
- Lock up knives, hide appliances and remove knobs from the stove when not in use
- Hide matches and cigarette lighters
- Unplug all heat producing appliances when not in use
- Test the temperature of the food before serving as the patient may not be able to discern if food is too hot or cold
- Do not let the person wear loose clothes while cooking
- Do not place containers of hot liquid near the edges of tables and counter tops, pour hot liquids away from the person’s body, keep the pot as far away as possible, test the temperature of microwave prepared foods
- Cover all light bulbs with shades or globes
Home safety against wandering
- Consider installing safety doorknobs
- Put locks at the top or bottom of doors, out of the person’s line of sight
- Camouflage main door or place a dark rug in front of it to discourage the person from approaching it
- Attach bell or chimes to doors to stay aware of the person’s activities while in another room
- Invest in a personal tracking device
- Ensure the person wears an identification bracelet with recorded name and address on it
While following the above may prevent any accidents, mishaps are inevitable. In the wake of an emergency it is quite important to maintain calm and not get overwhelmed. Having a regularly updated emergency plan in place can help deal with the situation quickly.
- Have a handy list of all important phone numbers – police, doctor, ambulance, hospitals and poison control centres
- Develop escape plans in case of fire
- Install fire extinguishers and smoke alarms and check them monthly
- Enlist someone living nearby for help in case of an emergency
- Be in touch with the local Alzheimer’s Association
Safety first should be the mantra when caring for a Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease patient. Follow these safety measures for dementia patients. Be alert and be safe!
With inputs from Dr. Anil Kumar Chawla