The Caregiver's Guide to Home Modification
Mark Warner A.I.A., NCARB and Ellen Warner, M.ED.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease may be one of the greatest challenges a family can experience. Until recently, information on how to "Alzheimer's-proof" your home has been difficult to find.
The purpose of this article is to provide information on modifying the home to care for a person with Alzheimer's. It is intended to make it easier for families and caregivers to create a safer and more sensitive home environment. We describe the steps to take and products that are available to modify your home and tackle the difficulties you may encounter along the way.
Alzheimer's affects the brain and its ability to process information -- each case is unique. You should not expect logical conclusions from a person who is losing their ability to think rationally. There are no rules and every suggestion must be reviewed in terms of your special situation, needs and abilities of your loved one.
Since each person goes through the stages of Alzheimer's at their own pace, in their own way, what works today may not work tomorrow. Locks that are effective one day may be opened with ease the next. Child-proof devices are helpful, but remember they were designed for children, not adults. The job of a caregiver is to watch, listen and constantly adjust to changes.
ADAPT THE HOME FOR ALL FAMILY MEMBERS
AREA ONE: THE DANGER ZONES
Area One consists of rooms such as the garage, basement and closets where breakable, dangerous or valuable items have been stored. Doors leading to these restricted areas and to the outside should be locked, alarmed or controlled by wander-prevention devices.
AREA TWO: THE RESPITE ZONE
AREA THREE: THE SAFE ZONE
INSIDE THE HOME
Secure the windows and balcony doors if you live on an upper floor. Often the person you are caring for does not realize that they live on an upper floor even if it is obvious to you. Easily installed, inexpensive window clamps are available at most hardware stores and will prevent a window or sliding door from opening wide enough to allow a person to walk through.
Remove both toxic and seemingly harmless products that, if eaten in excess, could cause illness - items like toothpaste or sweeteners. Keep sharp utensils and electrical appliances out of reach. Disconnect the garbage disposal, a popular spot to hide things.
Your entire home should be well lit to help the person with Alzheimer's see where they are going. This is especially important for "dead-end" corridors that are often dark and shadowy. An Alzheimer's sufferer may not realize how to turn around and come back.
Lower the thermostat on your hot water heater to its lowest setting or no higher than 120 degrees to prevent accidental burns. You can also install inexpensive anti-scalding devices on the faucets of the sinks, showers and bath tubs.
Install a seat and a hand-held showerhead in the bath or shower. Showerheads with "on-off" buttons at the hand-held portion offer better control for dealing with fears of water or bathing. Grab bars and non-slip bath/shower mats are also advisable. Remove all electrical appliances from counters and the control knobs from the stove, oven and inside the refrigerator.
If falling becomes a problem, place furniture to provide support when traveling through a room. Remove furniture that rolls, falls over easily or cannot support a person's weight. Eliminate throw rugs and low furniture, such as small ottomans or magazine racks, that can cause falls or trips. Remove furniture that is hazardous or difficult to see, such as the ever-popular glass table and glass shelving. Watch out for extension cords and telephone lines that may be tripped over, snagged or walked into, pulling an attached lamp or appliance to the floor.
YOUR BACK YARD
Night wandering presents unique challenges. While caregivers are asleep, it is easier for a person with Alzheimer's to wander off unnoticed. Place a simple door alarm on the knob of the bedroom door. If the knob is turned, the alarm will sound and alert the caregiver that someone is on the move. With these alarms in place the caregiver can safely and comfortably get a good night's sleep knowing that movement will not go unnoticed. (Test the alarm to make sure the caregiver can hear it from their bedroom.)
Daytime wandering often involves a continuous "wandering path" that can be a source of stimulating and healthy activity. Look for such opportunities in your home and back yard often they are created for you.
Remember to remove low furniture and anything that your loved one might trip over, bump into or knock over. Don't overlook higher shelves or wall-mounted fixtures along the way. While the same rules apply to outside paths, it is also a good idea to trim shrubbery and remove any items that prevent a full view of the path.
Place large, easy-to-read signs or pictures cut out of magazines on cabinets and drawers to illustrate the contents. Turn this into a family project and make it fun.
ALZHEIMER'S IS A PROGRESSIVE DISEASE
STORAGE FOR CRITICAL SUPPLIES
Caring for someone with Alzheimer's disease is an enormous challenge. Nevertheless, for many families, keeping their loved one at home is rewarding and well worth the challenge. Contact the Alzheimer's Association at 800-272-3900 for the number of your local chapter. Get involved in a support group and share your ideas with other caregivers.
These are only a few of the precautions and home modifications you should consider when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's disease at home. For a list of products and where to get them, e-mail your request to email@example.com or visit the Ageless Designs website at http://www.agelessdesign.com. Read more about making a home safe and comfortable for a loved one with AD in "The Complete Guide to Alzheimer's-Proofing You Home."
Copyright © 1996 Ageless Design, Inc.
Available from ElderCare Online www.ec-online.net