Safety Risks for Those Living With Dementia
If you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with dementia, it’s crucial to create a comprehensive safety plan. This safety plan will address hazards and threats and propose solutions for safety issues inside and outside of the home.
Being proactive about your loved one’s safety will give you and other family members peace of mind. A comprehensive safety plan will also reduce the risk of accident and injury, extend your loved one’s lifespan, and help them maintain some independence for as long as possible.
In order to create a plan, you must fully understand the in-home and outside safety risks for those living with dementia.
In-Home Safety Risks
Home safety is incredibly important for all seniors, but especially for those who have been diagnosed with dementia. If your loved one wants to age in place in the comfort of their own home, it’s very important that you assess the home for safety hazards.
Keep in mind that as your loved one’s dementia progresses, their needs and abilities will change. An area that wasn’t a hazard before may become one in the future. Alzheimer’s and dementia cause changes in the brain that affect your loved one’s cognition, judgment, mobility, behavior, senses, and physical abilities.
Stairs, uneven flooring, low lighting, and even family pets can pose a hazard to your loved one’s safety. You can mitigate in-home safety risks by:
- Scheduling a home safety evaluation to identify hazards
- Disconnecting dangerous appliances
- Hiding weapons or removing them from the home
- Being prepared for emergencies
- Install and maintain safety devices like security alarms, personal alarms, smoke and fire detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers
- Improving lighting
- Keeping dangerous substances out of reach
- Locking away medications
- Installing grab bars and safety railings
- Removing tripping hazards
- Installing a shower bench
- Routinely inspecting and assessing changes to the home for safety hazards
Not all people with dementia wander, but it is a very common side effect of the mental and physical changes brought on by dementia symptoms. Wandering can be very dangerous because it can exhaust your loved one, confuse them, make them dehydrated, and increase their risk of accident or injury.
Many people with dementia wander repeatedly and can end up miles away from home with no understanding of how to get back or how to ask for help.
Being aware of the warning signs that your loved one is prone to wandering can help you design strategies to mitigate the risk:
- Taking long walks or returning from walks later than usual
- Not remembering how to get to or from familiar places inside or outside the home
- Fixation on completing past routines that are no longer relevant, like going to work, visiting a friend or spouse, or attending an event
- Expressing the desire to go home when they are already at home
- Acting restless and pacing
- Making repetitive movements
- Repeatedly asking about where friends and family are
- Going through the motions of completing an activity without actually doing it
- Expressing anxiety in crowded areas
If you see any of these signs in your loved one, you should take proactive measures to reduce their risk of wandering:
- Create structured daily routines
- Plan engaging activities throughout the day
- Hire an in-home caregiver
- Install hidden locks on exterior doors
- Install an alarm that will notify you if your loved one leaves the house
- Limit your loved one’s driving time or accompany them on car trips
- Avoid busy places and new surroundings
- Notify friends, neighbors, family members, and local police about your loved one’s tendency to wander
Cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s or dementia can cause medication safety issues. It’s important that you and your loved one’s in-home caregiver or senior care aide understand what medication is in the house, who it is for, what it is for, when it should be taken, and where it will be stored.
To prevent accidental overdoses, consider keeping medication in a locked drawer or cabinet. Coordinate with your loved one’s doctors and care providers to understand which medications your loved one should be taking and when.
Make sure you understand potential drug interactions, and keep other medications and alcohol out of reach of your loved one if there is a risk of interaction. Maintain a record of medication administration and use a pill box organizer to keep track of daily dosages. Make sure medication is given according to a strict daily routine.
People with dementia are at a higher risk of physical and mental health issues than elderly people who don’t have dementia. Your loved one may exhibit significant changes to their personality and mental health, including becoming:
They may also experience physical health problems as a complication of their dementia. They may have trouble sleeping and may not remember to eat or drink water at appropriate times.
This is why having an in-home caregiver or elder care aide in the home is so important. People with dementia have a higher risk of:
- Falls and injuries
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss
- Urinary tract infections
- Poor nutrition
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Heart problems
- Circulatory problems
- Blood clots
You and your family can do your part to keep your loved one physically and mentally healthy by scheduling regular doctor’s visits, monitoring your loved one’s mood and behavior, making sure they eat healthily and get some physical activity each day, and trying to improve their sleep habits.
Hiring an in-home caregiver can also help you maintain your loved one’s physical safety during the day and offer some companionship that may improve their mental health.
In the early stages of dementia, your loved one may still want to drive, and it may be hard to convince them to stop. Driving with dementia is very dangerous both for your loved one and others on the road.
It may be necessary to stage a family intervention or involve a healthcare professional, counselor, or spiritual leader to talk to your loved one about the importance of giving up driving.
Watch for these signs of unsafe driving:
- Loss of memory of how to get to familiar places
- Inability to observe hazards in the roadway
- Failure to observe traffic lights or signs
- Poor vision
- Driving at an inappropriate speed
- Getting angry or confused while driving
- Hitting objects or curbs
- Making driving errors
- Getting the brake and gas pedal confused
- Returning from an errand much later than they should
- Weaving throughout lanes
- Not using a turn signal, headlights, or windshield wipers when necessary
- Forgetting their destination
You and your family should prepare for emergencies and have a coordinated plan in place. People with dementia can become easily confused by emergency situations and may not react appropriately, quickly enough, or at all.
Emergencies like fire, flood, or extreme weather can significantly impact your loved one’s safety. You should create an emergency response plan for family members and create an emergency supply kit for your loved one’s home.
If you suspect that extreme weather will affect your loved one’s comfort or safety, you should plan for a family member or in-home caregiver to stay with your loved one.
People with Alzheimer’s and dementia are at a greater risk of abuse from family members and caregivers. You and your family should be aware of the signs of abuse and know how to respond and report abuse.
Abuse can be physical, emotional, medical, financial, or sexual. Abuse can also involve neglect, confinement, deprivation of resources or medication, and self-neglect.
Watch for these signs of abuse, and report incidents to your local police and your local adult protective services agency:
- Unexplained bruises and injuries
- Withdrawal from activities or communication
- Sudden changes in mood, ability, or mobility
- Sudden changes in financial situation
- Bedsores, infection, malnutrition, and poor hygiene
- Increased arguments or strained relationships
- Disinterest in leaving the house or having visitors
Fraud and Deception
Those with Alzheimer’s and dementia are also very vulnerable to fraud and deception. Your loved one may get a phone call, email, or text message encouraging them to send money or provide personal or financial information, and they may not be able to recognize the request as suspicious or fraudulent.
Be aware of elder fraud schemes, and take proactive measures to protect your loved one from deception. If your loved one’s dementia is advanced enough that they won’t remember instructions for avoiding fraud, consider limiting or monitoring their phone and computer usage.
Family pets can also pose a risk to people with dementia. Animals can jump up on elderly people and increase their risk of falls and injury. They can also be a trip hazard. If your loved one’s physical or mental health is compromised, taking a dog for a walk, trying to clean up pet messes, carrying food and water bowls, and cleaning a litter box may increase their risk of a fall or injury.
As your loved one’s dementia progresses, they may not remember to feed or care for the pet, or they may accidentally leave the pet outside for hours or lose track of it on a walk. If your loved one has a pet, it may be in their best interests for you or another family member to take ownership of the pet. You can still bring it over to visit your loved one.
Schedule a Home Safety Evaluation in Southern Arizona
At Placita In Home Care, we offer free, comprehensive home safety evaluations throughout Southern Arizona. Our home safety evaluations are conducted by professionals with years of experience in the industry and can identify hidden and common safety and health hazards.
If you have a loved one with dementia who is not ready to transition into an assisted living memory care facility, a home safety evaluation will ensure their home is safe for them. We also offer in-home care services, respite care, and assisted living placement services for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Call us today to schedule a consultation for in-home care or a home safety evaluation in the Tucson or Phoenix metro area, or fill out our contact form online.