Alzheimer’s has become
one of the 21st Century’s biggest global health priorities
and is very sadly a devastating reality for over 2.2 million South Africans
While Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias affect each individual differently, symptoms such as confusion and disorientation, limitations in mobility or coordination, and memory loss pose serious safety concerns. If your loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, you may be concerned about their safety.
Many suffering from Alzheimers lose the ability to take care of themselves. Many families decide to move their loved one with Alzheimer’s into their home, as they believe that this 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. In part 1 of this article we discuss how you can get started in the home:
In the Home
- Remove or secure potential toxins or medications. Remember that your home may not be safe for someone who does not understand the dangers that lurk around every corner. Prescription medicines are a potential danger, as an overdose may be deadly or have long term health consequences.
- Minimise safety concerns in the home. In the middle or later stages of this disease, symptoms may increase in number and severity, and your loved one may lose their sense of time and place and may forget how to perform basic tasks. A weakening of the senses such as hearing, depth perception, temperature sensitivity and vision may make navigating the home particularly difficult. It is vital to reduce these risks as much as possible.
- The following can be helpful:
– Put pictures on cupboards to show what’s inside them.
– Remove the doors from cupboards completely.
– Replace all cutlery with child-safe equivalents.
– Replace all appliances with models that shut off automatically.
– Clearly mark the “off” position of dials and switches.
– Keep instructions near appliances which explain how to use them.
- 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. Get handrails installed in the bathtub/shower and next to the toilet, making sure they are easily seen.
- Arrange furniture so that there’s a clear walking path through all rooms used by your loved one.
- Place easy-to-read clocks and calendars around the home.
- Lower the temperature setting on the geyser.
- The bedroom is an important area for Alzheimer’s patients, as it provides a safe, private area for them, helping to preserve their dignity. This room needs to create a sense of familiarity for those with Alzheimer’s so consider adding items that have a history or are particularly treasured by your loved one.
- Reflective surfaces may be confusing (they see themselves, but do not recognise and think there is a stranger in the house), take away mirrors/cover them with a towel, pull the curtains after dark, as they may see themselves in windows, etc. Keep a night light on in their room, or a light in the passage, since many patients does not like the dark.
- 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.
- One of the biggest challenges of people with Alzheimers is dehydration. Your loved one may not understand anymore the importance of drinking water. They may also not be able to recognise when they are thirsty or remember when they last drank. Dehydration can cause a host of problems and may exacerbate the symptoms of dementia. Always make sure that your loved one has easy access to water and remember to monitor their intake in a day.
- The same may be true of eating. Weight loss is a big concern as they may not recognise when they are hungry. They may have difficulty preparing meals and may forget when they last ate. You may need to take over the responsibility to ensure that your loved one eats properly and gets the nutrition they need.
- Try to keep meal routines as consistent as possible, such as having breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same time and in the same place each day. Don’t rush them. Sometimes, a simple cue is all that’s needed to remind a loved one to continue with their meal.
For more information on Dementia and Alzheimers please contact the following organisations in South Africa
Thank you to Hettie Theron, Senior Social Worker, Western Cape, Alzheimer’s SA NPC for her helpful comments on this topic