World Alzheimers Day falls on 21 September.
Alzheimer’s disease has become one of the 21st Century’s
biggest global health priorities
and is very sadly a devastating reality for nearly 2.2 million South Africans
As of 2013, there were an estimated 44.4 million people with dementia worldwide. This number will increase to an estimated 75.6 million in 2030, and 135.5 million in 2050. According to South Africa’s 2011 census, there are approximately 2.2 million people in South Africa with some form of dementia.
World Alzheimers Day falls on 21 September. Alzheimer’s disease has become one of the 21st Century’s biggest global health priorities and is very sadly a devastating reality for these 2.2 million South Africans.
Eventually, those suffering from it lose the ability to take care of themselves, and many families decide moving their loved one with Alzheimer’s into their home is the best course of action. This can be stressful, but many difficulties can be eased by taking some time to create a safe home environment. Here’s how you can get started.
In the early stages of Alzheimer’s, you may be able to get by in the kitchen by making a few product changes and adding some clear labels and instructions. For example, replace all appliances with models that shut off automatically, clearly mark the “off” position of dials and switches, and keep instructions near the microwave which explain how to use it and what not to put into it. In the later stages of the disease, you will need to remove all appliances and remove control knobs from the stove. In all stages, it can be helpful to put pictures on cupboards to show what’s inside them — or to remove the doors from cupboards completely — and to replace all cutlery with child-safe equivalents.
People with Alzheimer’s often develop additional problems with vision and balance, making falls more likely. This is a particular concern in the bathroom, which can quickly become slippery, so have non-slip mats or surfaces installed. If you have a shower in your bathtub, consider replacing this with a walk-in version — it will be expensive, but much safer. Either way, get handrails installed in the bathtub/shower and next to the toilet, making sure they are a contrasting colour to the walls. The American National Institute on Ageing recommends that you remove the lock from your bathroom door to prevent your loved one from getting locked inside and to allow access if there is an emergency. People who are severely impaired by Alzheimer’s disease should not be left unsupervised in the bathroom.
The bedroom is an important area for Alzheimer’s patients, as it provides a safe, private area for them, helping to preserve their dignity. You can add a few treasured items of theirs to the room, which will create a sense of familiarity — however, try to keep the bedroom uncluttered to avoid creating confusion. Also, minimize the amount of furniture in the room, especially low-level furniture that they could walk into. Keep the walkway from the bed to the door as clear as possible, ideally without a rug on the floor, which could be a tripping hazard. In terms of clothing, go for simplicity — too many choices can cause stress and confusion, so don’t overfill wardrobes and drawers with clothes.
Outside, pay particular attention to any steps or stairs. Make sure that they are safe and sturdy and have secure handrails, and ensure each step is the same height. Uneven step heights are likely to cause a fall, so use a tape measure to make sure each step is consistent. You can also use reflective tape to highlight each step and any other hazards around the yard, such as walls. If you have a swimming pool, don’t leave someone with Alzheimer’s in or around the water while unattended. Use multiple safety precautions when the pool is not in use — for example, install a gate and a pool alarm that will go off as soon as someone enters the pool area.
Generally speaking, keep the home well-lit and free of clutter. You might want to take down photos of people, which may be confusing to Alzheimer’s patients if they don’t recognize the people in them. There’s a lot to do in the home, and it can be daunting — but just take it one room at a time, and you’ll get there.
Article by: Karen Weeks
Additional resources: https://alzheimers.org.za/prevalence-of-dementia/