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Home safety modifications for someone with dementia

Last Updated Apr 12, 2018 · Written by Rob Schneider


When a loved one gets dementia, it can be a devastating experience, but we have to adapt and learn how to keep a home safe for a dementia sufferer. It can be almost impossible to be in the home all the time, but if you take precautions, a home can be safe for someone with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. These are some precautions experts in the field of dementia and Alzhimer's disease suggest.

  1. Get rid of clutter in the home
  2. Find ways to childproof the home
  3. The bathroom can be the most dangerous room in the house for someone with dementia
  4. Kitchens are unsafe for people with dementia
  5. Home automation for people with dementia
  6. More tips from dementia and Alzheimer's disease experts

Get rid of clutter in the home

Clutter can be confusing and dangerous to people with dementia. Get rid of clutter in the home, including magazines, books and other clutter. Also keep a minimum of furniture in the home to allow them to walk freely through the home.

Dementia sufferers can be overwhelmed by sensory overload and become disoriented. Try to simplify the home environment as much as possible and they will feel more comfortable and will not feel overloaded.

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People with dementia often wander around aimlessly. Keep paths clear for them to wander without having to go around furniture or other objects.

Also simplify the patterns on furniture and the floor. A plain colour is better than a pattern both on furniture and the floor. People with dementia can become confused by patterns and they can make it difficult for them to distinguish between one object and another.

One thing you can do is hang family photographs on the wall. Also think about painting the walls a colour they enjoy. Mementos and calming colours can help them feel more at ease and will help them cope when they are alone in the house.

Find ways to childproof the home

Elderly people with dementia can become like children and you want to remove anything that can pose a danger to them. Childproofing the home may include:

  • Making unsafe areas inaccessible to them, including the laundry room, sheds and garages
  • Putting childproof latches in some cupboards in the kitchen and storing chemicals, sharp objects and other things behind the latches
  • They should not be allowed to wander outside unless they are in an enclosed backyard. They may not be able to find their way back and cars can be a danger to them
  • Keep all medications locked away

Consider their safety first and remember they may want to try something that can be harmful to them. They won't do this deliberately, but because they have dementia, they may try a medication or even try to ingest something that can harm them. Make sure they don't have access to sharp knives and other sharp objects, too.

The bathroom can be the most dangerous room in the house for someone with dementia

We take bathrooms for granted, but a person with dementia can be in danger in the bathroom. They will need to use the bathroom, but install grab rails next to the toilet, in the shower and anyplace else in the bathroom where it looks like they need something to hold on to.

Bathrooms can become slippery, so install textured stickers to all potentially slippery surfaces, including the shower, the bath and outside the shower and bath where they will step out with wet feet and possibly fall.

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Think about turning down the hot water to a tolerable level. They may forget to turn on cold water to mix with hot water and become scalded over the sink or in the shower. If the water is just hot enough for them to bathe, it will be safer for them.

If the bathroom door has a lock on it, replace the door handle with a non-locking handle. A dementia sufferer may lock the door behind them, but if they get into trouble, you need to be able to get into the bathroom quickly to help them.

Kitchens are unsafe for people with dementia

The kitchen is the second place you should look at and try to make as safe as possible for someone with dementia. The kitchen is easily accessible and they will wander into the kitchen and perhaps face a danger you might not think about.

Appliances such as toasters, blenders and kettles can be a fire danger in the hands of someone with dementia or Alzheimer's disease. They may get the appliance wet or plug it in incorrectly and may even get a nasty shock from appliances. Unplug appliances and store them where they cannot get to them or behind a childproof lock. Don't leave a kettle out for them because the hot water can be very dangerous to them. You may also want to remove the handles from the cooktop because they may turn on the cooktop and forget they turned it on or can even get burned by an electric or gas cooktop.

Also lock away sharp knives and other sharp objects. They can be very dangerous and someone with dementia shouldn't be able to access them.

Finally, take a look in the fridge and remove anything that might be a danger to them. Some medications should be stored in the fridge, but they won't recognise a medication and may try to eat it. Remove any expired food and place wholesome food in the fridge. Also avoid placing glass in the fridge and consider placing food stored in glass bottles in plastic containers.

Home automation for people with dementia

The house should be well lighted and at a comfortable temperature. Home automation can help you keep the home safe for someone with dementia. Some things to consider include:

  • Motion detectors that will turn on lights
  • Temperature control you can access from an app
  • You may want to install cameras so you can watch their activities from an app on a smartphone
  • Wearable sensors are available that can alert you if they wander away from the home or slip and fall. Some sensors also monitor blood pressure, glucose levels and other vital signs

While it might seem like an invasion of privacy to install cameras, it is better than leaving someone with dementia alone in a house without supervision. You can look in on them at any time and also check to make sure they haven't left a cooktop on or slipped and fallen in the bathroom or other room of the house.

More tips from dementia and Alzheimer's disease experts

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These are just some home safety modifications for someone with dementia. The U.S. National Institute on Aging suggests many more things that everyone caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer's disease should know. The site offers more tips for inside and outside the home and suggests ways to make the home safer for them when you can't be there with them. For example:

  • Remove scatter rugs from entryways
  • Install night lights in the bedroom, living room and bathroom
  • Do not let electrical cords be anywhere where a person with dementia may trip over the cords
  • Install child proof plugs on unused electrical outlets
  • Consider blocking a stairway if the person has balance problems
  • Smooth outdoor surfaces and keep plants pruned back

These are just a few of the suggestions. Did you know, for instance, that a person with dementia might mistake fake fruit with real fruit and try to eat it? It's hard for a loved one to know what they are thinking, but experts have studied people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease for years and understand the dangers they face.

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