Many of our readers are in the midst of balancing their work lives with their family caregiving responsibilities. The challenge can be immense, overwhelming and scary.
Along that line, one of our readers wrote in and asked "My mother has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's. How can I keep her safe while I'm working during the day."
Unfortunately, the disease causes different behaviors in different people and those behaviors will likely change as the disease progresses. As such, every situation requires a different approach and at some point, leaving your mother alone may not be feasible.
That said, we've found the following safety precautions for early stage Alzheimer's and/or dementia patients, a good start. Hopefully they'll work well for your mother as well:
- Install indoor "nanny-cams" with audio, in her bedroom and living area so you can monitor her well-being at all times, unobtrusively;
- Install smoke alarms in the kitchen, furnace room and sleeping areas that notify you when they go off;
- Install alarms on doors and windows that notify when they go off;
- Install a lock box that gives you or emergency personnel entry in case you get locked out;
- Install motion sensored lighting in the hallways and stairwells;
- Keep all medications locked away. Consider and automatic medication dispenser (with a reminder) if pills need to be taken while you're at work;
- Add a tracking device with GPS to your mother's key's, purse, or wrist if your mother gets lost, confused or wanders;
- If your mother smokes, keep matches, lighters and cigarettes out of the home. Cigarettes are the number one cause of unintentional home fires;
- Remove or lock all guns in a fool proof safe;
- Remove keys to cars, ATV's, motorcycles, boats, lawn mowers etc...
- Lock away fertilizers, gasoline, herbicides, motorized equipment and tools;
- Install childproof locks on kitchen cabinets and drawers containing items you want out of reach (glassware, sharp knives, scissors, matches, cleaning items, plastic bags, blenders, etc...);
- Display emergency phone numbers and your mom's home address near every telephone, in large font;
- Install safety knobs or automatic shut off valves on stoves and ovens;
- Install anti-scald devices on all sinks, showers and bath tubs to prevent burns;
- Set hot water tank thermostat to 120 degrees;
- Remove portable space heaters;
- Remove any locks where your mother can be locked inside a bathroom. Should open automatically when handle is turned;
- Install grab bars by all toilets and in all showers and bathtubs;
- Make sure bathroom, shower and bathtub surfaces are all non-slip;
- Install handrails on both sides of stairways;
- Remove electrical items from the bathroom (hair dryer, razors, perms, etc...) for fear of electrocution;
- Lock away all alcohol;
- Remove artificial fruits, vegetables and magnets that could be mistaken for the real thing and swallowed by accident;
- Place a decal on glass doors or large windows, so they're easily visible;
- Fence in pools and keep locked;
- Remove all area rugs;
- Mark all steps, thresholds or changes in floor height with a contrasting color.
One word of caution. Some people place very complicated door locks to prevent their loved one's from leaving their home and wandering. This can be a very dangerous solution due to the risks of fire and smoke inhalation.
In the early stages, an alarm notifying you of the door being opened, may be enough. You may also want to get a tracking device, so you can find your mother should she wonder or get lost. At the point where you're no longer comfortable with either of those solutions, you may want to look for an alternative, but locking them in with no supervision, should not be considered a safe option.