Prepare your home for a family member with Alzheimer’s disease

Posted in Connect on February 8, 2018.

When we get older, so do our parents. Unfortunately, many parents begin to suffer from Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, and that means we may become unpaid caregivers to them. While this is a stressful time full of uncertainty, it can also be a rewarding job that will give you a chance to care for your parents they way they once did for you.

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable, progressive brain disease that takes away the person’s ability to remember and understand the world around them. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease, and more than 15 million Americans provide unpaid care to a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Unfortunately, 35 percent of caregivers report that their own health has gotten worse since they began caring for their loved one with dementia. That means that self-care is crucial when providing care for another person.

If your loved one has recently been diagnosed, it’s important to plan ahead with him or her now, before cognitive abilities begin to decline. You’ll need to take care of the legal and financial issues early to prevent the logistical headaches later. If your loved one has long-term care insurance, contact the company right after diagnosis to get the most out of the policy. Care facilities, which will likely be needed eventually, will be expensive.

When you’re preparing your own home to welcome your loved one with Alzheimer’s, start by doing a walk-through of your home. Preparing your home is not unlike preparing for a toddler: You have to understand that your loved one doesn’t understand the things you do and may become confused easily. Hide all dangerous chemicals, medications and tools, and lock them up. Remove any firearms or weapons from the home, or lock them up where he or she can’t access them. People with Alzheimer’s can often mistake a family member for an intruder, with disastrous consequences.

Put extra locks on the exterior doors, preferably up high where the person can’t reach them, and consider adding an alarm system. People with Alzheimer’s disease often wander from their homes, putting them in serious danger. Remove the knobs from the stove so that he or she can’t try to cook without supervision. Consider installing an automatic shut-off on the stove, and make sure your fire extinguishers and smoke detectors are in good working order. Lower the temperature on your water heater to prevent scalding. Remove the locks on interior doors so that they can’t lock themselves in a room.

Reduce clutter in your home by clearing out walkways and removing trinkets as much as possible. Simplicity is best. This will decrease the chances of overstimulation and make decision-making easier. Lock up rooms that could be dangerous, including garages, hobby rooms, attics and basements. Having access to power tools is not a good idea for a person with dementia. Add child safety locks on the cabinets and electrical outlets.

Prepare bathrooms to prevent falls. Add grab bars to the shower and toilet area, and add a shower seat. Remove all electronic devices that can cause electrocution if dropped into water. If your home has a lot of mirrors, consider taking them down to avoid confusing him or her. Even if your loved one isn’t in a wheelchair, consider adding ramps. Stairs are difficult for the elderly. Add night lights to hallways and bathrooms in case he or she gets up a lot at night.

Caring for someone with dementia is no easy task, but in those brief moments of lucidity you’ll experience great joy in being there for your loved one. You’ll create a new bond between the two of you, that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Being an unpaid family caregiver is a privilege you’ll appreciate later. Enjoy your loved one as often as you can. You’ll be glad you did.

Lydia Chan

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