Alzheimer’s disease affects about 5.4 million Americans, about 5.2 million of which are 65 and older. It can be your grandparent, your cousin, your sibling, or even your parent who faces the diagnosis. Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s require round-the-clock care, and for many families, that means taking the loved one into their own home.
Caring for someone with dementia is a roller coaster. Everyday is different, and each day brings new challenges, symptoms, and questions. When caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, it’s all about understanding the progression of the disease and preparing ahead.
What Is a Caregiver?
Caregivers dedicate themselves to the care of another, whether it’s a parent, grandparent, or other family member. Duties of caregivers can include buying groceries, cooking, cleaning, and helping with showering. In the case of Alzheimer’s, caregivers must consider the progressing symptoms and the proper preparations that can help.
What to Expect?
Alzheimer’s advances differently for everyone. It begins with occasional memory lapses and changes in concentration, and it moves on to intensified cognitive decline, loss of mobility, and balance. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, other changes manifest in a lost sense of time and place, changes in behavior, difficulties with vision and depth perception, as well as a loss of judgement.
Many of these challenges can be mitigated by some preparation and modification in the home. Below are some general suggestions that work well based on the common symptoms and known changes.
The goal is to make the home more accessible, less confusing, and easier to navigate. The three main features of a home to consider are accessibility, adaptability, and universal design. The following are some general tips:
- Remove locks on doors: This will prevent patients from locking themselves in rooms.
- Remove tripping hazards: Because of a loss of mobility and balance, removing unnecessary hazards from hallways and dark corners can prevent injury. This can include extension cords, rugs, etc.
- Improve lighting: Due to a diminished control of motor skills, good lighting can assist an Alzheimer’s patient from tripping or falling.
- Check/install detectors: This is a preventative measure that is important for all homes and ensures safety from fire and carbon dioxide poisoning.
- Add signs on the door: Identifying rooms easily can be an easy way to keep patients from becoming lost.
- Alarm system: Many Alzheimer’s patients are known to wander, so installing an alarm system can be a useful way to ensure you are notified when a door or window is open.
The Huffington Post reports that because dementia patients are resistant to changes in their environment, the earlier modifications are done, the easier the transitions will be.
The National Institute of Aging offers a checklist to help home caregivers think about important changes they can make to their home. Some of these include room-by-room tips.
Bathrooms can prove to be hazardous places because of the reduced space. Stepping over tubs or getting up from the toilet can be a danger for someone suffering from dementia. To help an Alzheimer’s patient, you can install handrails, grab bars, a raised toilet seat, and a shower seat. You can also lower the water temperature to prevent scalding.
With the different appliances and tools in the kitchen, avoid confusion and make it a safe space. Safely lock up medications and sharp utensils, and put dangerous cleaning products out of reach. You can also keep a night light in the kitchen and install childproof latches on cabinets.
Considering the atmosphere for your loved one can help increase comfort and avoid agitation, anxiety, or depression. Steps you can take include:
- Adding comforting images: Having familiar pictures around can make patients feel more comfortable.
- Creating special places: Designate comfortable places indoors and out for loved ones to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet, a great view, or their favorite program.
- Reducing noise: Avoid sensory overloads by reducing unnecessary noise that can cause stress or anxiety.
Becoming an Alzheimer’s caregiver in your home is a full-time job. It requires constant adjustments and preemptively looking for ways to keep your loved one safe and healthy. Thinking ahead and preparing your home will not only help in preventing unnecessary stress and injury, but it will ease the stress of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s.
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