No matter how much you prepare and plan for the safety needs of a family member with dementia, it is inevitable that their needs will change. In order to be successful with their safety, you must remain flexible. When a family member is diagnosed with dementia, you have to start looking at the home environment in a totally different light. You have to recognize hazards that exist and how they can be removed. You have to look for features and ideas that protect your loved one while also promoting their independence. So, where do you begin?
As the disease of dementia progresses, seniors will generally experience changes within the following five key areas:
- Using proper judgment: for example, if your loved one forgets how to use a general household appliance
- Perception of time and place: this is generally seen when a loved one gets lost within their own neighborhood or they simply cannot recall what year it currently is
- Cognitive behavior: this is seen when a loved one becomes very easily confused, angry, suspicious, or fearful
- Physical activity: loved ones may experience problems keeping their balance or become dependent on a walker/wheelchair for ambulation
- Use of the five senses: seniors with dementia often experience a decline in vision, hearing, temperature regulation and perception of depth
Naturally, these changes emphasize the reason family members must remain flexible, as some seniors with dementia may experience these changes differently. There is no timeline for how these changes unfold or guideline as to how severe they will be. This uncertainty can make it more difficult to implement safety precautions in the home.
To ensure your family member is able to remain safely in their home, it is important to design an action plan. This is essentially a plan to create a dementia-friendly environment. Following these steps can help to create a safe and secure home:
Look at the home as if you were the patient: Put yourself in the shoes of someone with dementia. What objects could you hurt yourself with? How easy is it for you to get outside? Are the stairs posing a danger?
Emphasize adapting to the environment: You will have more success attempting to teach preventative actions to an elder instead of attempting to re-teach them about their own safety. Focus on showing them tips for identifying possible dangers or risks in the home.
Try to remove any need to rush through activities: Many personal care accidents occur when a senior is rushed for time. Try to break up activities into simple steps and always allow them plenty of time to complete these tasks. Offer to help them with any activities that seem to have become difficult.
Support the needs of the senior: Avoid completing tasks for seniors. You do not want to take away their independence or treat them like a child. Encourage them to be active and participate in activities. The more mobile and independent they are, the better they will feel.
Realize the limitations: You must accept that it is impossible to prevent every accident or to remedy every danger in the home. When you take the necessary steps to make safe changes, follow these tips to create the best home environment for your loved one, keep an eye open for any dangerous objects or activities and rely on common sense so your family is able to successfully support an action plan and take part in its success.