If you're caring for someone with dementia, you no doubt find yourself with plenty of things to worry about -- not least of which is your loved one's safety. Cognitive challenges can turn everyday circumstances, actions and surroundings into potential hazards.
Fortunately, understanding the dangers allows you to plan around them through some sensible caregiver strategies. Here are some steps you can take to help your loved one stay safe.
You may think of "home sweet home" as a refuge against the potential dangers and threats of the outside world -- but the inside world holds potential dangers too, especially for folks who are not thinking as clearly as they once were. Garden tools, kitchen knives, gas stoves, guns and other household objects can easily cause injury or worse to your loved one with dementia.
Medications can be taken unthinkingly, with tragic results. Even that innocent-looking front or back door can provide a gateway into trouble for individuals who might wander out of the house. Dementia sufferers are also at risk for tripping and falling, especially if they don't see or notice obstacles in their path.
A few simple modifications to your home can go a long way toward preventing these troubles. Secure any items that might pose a threat, from drugs to cutlery, inside locked compartments or cabinets. Fit exterior doors with locks that require a key, or add deadbolts that your loved ones cannot easily reach. To prevent trip-and-fall accidents, move any small objects out of common traffic pathways. Add extra lighting (from overhead lamps to night lights) to guide the way and reveal any potential obstacles.
Water is essential for life, but dementia patients sometimes find themselves at risk for dehydration. In some cases, they may prepare a drink and then forget whether they actually drank it; in others, the brain no longer sends adequate thirst messages to compel getting that drink.
As dementia progresses, the act of drinking and swallowing can become more challenging. This may discourage your loved one from drinking or even pose a possible choking hazard.
It's important to recognize the symptoms of dehydration, including dry skin, dark urine, sunken eyes, headaches and increased confusion, so you'll know you need to replenish those fluid levels immediately.
Better yet, do everything you can to prevent that case of dehydration from happening. Leave plenty of water bottles or other containers in highly visible spots around the house. Leave notes or set alarms to remind your loved one that it's time for another cup of water or tea.
If swallowing or handling a glass has become challenging, make sure you have easy-open bottles and/or one-way straws on hand.
Dressing for the Climate
People with dementia don't always consider weather, seasons or indoor temperatures when dressing. It may be all too easy for your loved one to put on winter clothes in the summer or summer clothes in the winter, paving the way for heat stroke, dehydration or a dangerous chill.
While your loved one may not wish to be dictated to regarding wardrobe choices, you can at least make sure those choices are appropriate for the climate. If temperatures are likely to vary, present your loved one with multiple layers of thin clothing. This will enable him to adjust his clothing to his own comfort level throughout the day.
Looking after someone with dementia can be stressful enough without additional worries over safety. The move to a memory care facility, assisted living complex or another community living environment will naturally relieve some of your fears. But in the meantime, implement these best practices in your own home -- and make sure they're followed in any community living facility you're considering.