Modifications Enhance Safety for Those with Diminished Capacity

By Guest Blogger June Duncan.

Providing in-home care for someone with diminished capacity or Alzheimer’s disease can be overwhelming. Oftentimes, the symptoms of the disease lead to security and safety concerns. However, with thoughtful home modifications, one can provide an environment promoting independence for the patient and peace of mind for the caregiver.

Cause for Concern
Alzheimer’s disease can turn an otherwise safe home into a danger zone, with some of the following common symptoms listed below. Experiencing multiple symptoms can create hazardous environment to the patient, so it’s imperative for caregivers to make appropriate home modifications to prevent tragedy.
– There can be difficultly in comprehending spatial relationships, judging distance and depth.
– Physical abilities, such as motor skills and the ability to sleep, can be hindered, and senses, such as taste, touch, vision, hearing, and sense of smell can be altered.
– Patients may require the same information repeatedly, may be easily confused about time and location and once-familiar tasks can become challenging.
– Judgment can be impaired, leading to poor decision-making.

Assess the Home
Make a thorough assessment of the entire home with the mindset of protecting the Alzheimer’s patient. Experts suggest paying particular attention to basements, garages, bathrooms, and the kitchen. Inspect every room, looking for sharp objects, confusing patterns, potentially hazardous chemicals, and appliances with moving or hot parts. Lock kitchen and gardening equipment into secure storage areas, and likewise stow cleansers and other chemicals. Reduce the risk of injury by removing small appliances from the kitchen and bathrooms. Remove falling and tripping hazards such as area rugs, ottomans, and magazine racks.

Easy Modifications
There are many simple home modifications caregivers can make to promote the safety and independence of seniors with impaired abilities, judgment, and memory loss. Using contrasting colors can help with visibility and perception. Install light switch plates that are dramatically different from wall colors. Paint handrails and grab bars in bright, highly contrasting colors which stand out from walls. Ensure lighting is bright throughout the home, and add fixtures and brighter bulbs in dim areas. You can help patient remember details with simple memory aids, such as attaching photos on the outside of cupboards and drawers to indicate what’s inside. Also, Medical News Today explains that many people with Alzheimer’s lose the ability to perform sequential activities. If the patient struggles with sequences, instructions with visual aids or photos can be posted next to areas of concern.

More Involved Modifications
Creating a more accessible home will help the Alzheimer’s patient remain safer and more independent. If the bathroom doesn’t already provide grab bars, they should be installed. Grab bars should be capable of supporting 250 pounds or they may fail to support someone in the event of a fall.  CNBC recommends installing tiling in bathrooms with improved traction to reduce risk of slipping. Low-pile carpeting and ridged surface flooring are also acceptable. Kitchens should also be adapted to provide maneuverability with a wheelchair or walker. Look for 42 to 48 inches between counter tops and islands. Measure carefully with a high-quality tape measure to ensure space is adequate, as older homes typically only allow 36 inches of space.

Funding Options
When accommodating a senior with an impairment, there are several ways to pay for home improvements. Depending on the situation, the homeowner may qualify for Medicaid waivers, federal programs, state and local programs, or veteran’s programs. Another option to consider is settling a life insurance policy. If doing so is the right choice for your situation, the funds could then be used for medical expenses or assistance with daily living.

Providing in-home care for an Alzheimer’s patient can be a daunting task. Symptoms of the disease can turn a safe environment into a hazardous home. With proper accommodations, the caregiver can enjoy peace of mind and both the caregiver and patient can enjoy more independence.

Author: I thank June Duncan for contributing this article. June is the co-creator of Rise Up for Caregivers, which offers support for family members and friends who have taken on the responsibility of caring for their loved ones. She is author of the upcoming book, The Complete Guide to Caregiving: A Daily Companion for New Senior Caregivers. She can be reached at: June Duncan <june@riseupforcaregivers.org>