10 Tips for Memory Proofing Your Home
When someone has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, home can be a scary place for them, and the possibility of their wandering into unsafe areas or disappearing into the great unknown outside home a constant worry to those who love them. Here are a few suggestions on how to “memory proof” your home for someone with dementia.
1. Disguise Doors to Discourage Wandering
If your loved one gets confused and wanders into dangerous places, disguise doorways by hanging curtains or covering them with a photographic mural. Studies have shown that a large red stop sign sends an understandable message to even those with severe memory loss. Make or purchase a cardboard stop sign and mount directly to exit doors and doors to rooms that are "off limits". As an added deterrent, you may also wish to create a “crash bar” by cutting a piece of foam core 4” high by the width of the door, that slips between the door jams and hides the door knob; place your stop sign in the middle of the bar.
2. Use “Baby Proof” Latches and Gates for Safety
Improve the safety of a confused person living in your home by putting child safety latches on cupboards and doors. These devices, available in baby departments and stores are easy to open for those who know how. If you prefer, use a hook and eye latch. Whichever you choose, install the latches higher or lower than eye level. Baby gates can be placed across open doorways to deny access. Baby proofing items are available in baby departments or stores.
3. Use a Baby Monitor to Keep Track of Activity in Another Room
A baby monitor or wireless intercom allows a caregiver to attend to household duties while listening for what is happening in another room. Put the transmitter near the person you wish to monitor and carry the wireless receiver with you. Monitors are available in baby departments or stores.
4. Use Motion Detector Lights and Alarms to Track Movement into Unsafe Areas
Ask at your favorite hardware or home improvement store about easy-to-install motion sensor devices that automatically sound an alarm or turn on a light when someone enters an area. Place one in a hallway and the light will alert you to someone wandering outside their room at night. This is a great feature for home entries (inside and outside) and laundry rooms where you are likely to have your hands too full to turn on the light. Some have an adjustable time delay so if used in the bedroom, you can safely get into bed before the lights turn off.
5. Cover Doorknobs to Prevent Opening
To prevent a confused adult from opening doors and wandering into dangerous areas, place a sock, over the doorknob and secure it by winding a rubber band tightly around the stem of the knob to help keep the sock from being pulled off. When someone tries to open the door, the sock slides around the knob making it difficult to open; yet adults who can squeeze and turn the doorknob can easily open the door.
6. Install Flood Alarms or Automatic Faucets
If leaving water running is a concern, consider installing a flood alarm, designed for use in basements and laundry rooms, to notify you if water is detected on the floor, The detector plugs into the wall (battery operated versions also available) with a sensor wire that leads to the floor; if the wire comes in contact with water, such as an overflowing tub, the alarm lets you know. Flood alarms are inexpensive insurance in the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room -- anywhere a water leak/overflow might be possible. Available at hardware and home improvement stores. You may also want to install an automatic faucet, some of which come with anti-scald devices, that senses the person’s hands in front of it and turns the water on and off automatically; professional installation may be required.
7. Use Seat Covers to make Clean Up Easier
To make cleaning up “accidents” easier, place a clear plastic chair protector on your sofa and upholstered chairs. In addition to preventing stains and making clean up easier, it is also easier to change position and slide on and off the chair seat. Cover the mattress with a plastic cover or try placing Chux®, those blue plastic pads with an absorbent cotton lining typically used in hospitals, under the bed sheets to prevent incontinence from ruining the mattress.
8. Cover Mirrors
Some people with advanced dementia cannot recognize themselves in the mirror. Instead of trying to reason with them, cover the mirror with a towel, pillowcase, or soothing photographic poster.
9. Use a Recliner to Keep Someone with Dementia in Place
To help prevent a confused adult from wandering away, seat them in a deep overstuffed chair or recliner by a window or aquarium where they can watch the activity. If the person spends a lot of time in a recliner, keep the chair clean by covering it with a fitted, twin bed sheet.
10. Make Your Home Familiar and Safe
When memory is an issue, avoid the urge to rearrange the furniture -- keeping everything in the same place is an important strategy. For safety purposes, install locks on doors and cabinets containing medicines, toxic substances, and dangerous utensils or tools; remove electrical appliances from your bathroom; set your water heater temperature to 120 degrees; install grab rails and automatic lighting -- in this way you will help prevent accidents around the home.
For more information and helpful hints for coping with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, contact an Alzheimer’s or dementia support group in your area (your public library can help you find one) or go to the Alzheimer’s Education and Referral Center at the National Institutes of Health or Alzheimer’s Association .
Shelley Peterman Schwarz is a best-selling author, columnist and radio/TV personality. Her book, Memory Tips for Making Life Easier, offers hundreds of tips for remembering better, organizing your home so things aren't lost so easily, and strategies for making daily life and activities easier.
©2011 Meeting Life’s Challenges, LLC www.MakingLifeEasier.com
For reprint permission contact Shelley@MakingLifeEasier.com