Creating a Safe Home Environment for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease
By Lydia Chan
Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s disease comes with many challenges, not the least of which is creating a safe environment. Because Alzheimer’s disease patients lose their cognitive abilities, it’s important to create a home environment that’s as accident-proof as possible. Here’s how caregivers can get started adapting their home.
Alzheimer’s disease affects every part of a patient’s body. Caregivers planning home modifications should start by assessing the patient’s current health status and needs.
There are two tools caregivers can use to assess a loved one’s ability: the Barthel Index of Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and the Lawton Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADL). The ADL checklist assesses a person’s ability to complete the basic tasks of everyday life, like feeding, bathing, and dressing. The IADL checklist assesses a person’s ability to live independently and complete tasks like grocery shopping, laundry, and medication management.
Because Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive condition, it’s not enough to consider your loved one’s current health status. In the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, patients primarily require help with the instrumental activities of daily living. But by the later stages, they’ll need assistance with all activities of daily living. Talk with your loved one’s doctor to learn what changes to expect in the future.
Renovations fall into two categories: those that must be done now and those that can wait. The renovations you make now should be based on your loved one’s current health status, while later renovations should prepare for the future.
Some renovations you should never delay include basic safety measures like replacing front door steps with a ramp, installing smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, and installing a home security system. Doctors can’t predict exactly when a person with Alzheimer’s disease will start stumbling, forgetting tasks, or wandering, and it’s always better to prevent a serious accident than respond after the fact.
Other home adaptations to put on your list include:
Lighting: Due to visuoperceptual difficulties, Alzheimer’s disease patients benefit from bright lighting. Motion-activated lighting systems are safest.
Flooring: Area rugs and plush carpeting pose trip and fall hazards. Replace them with hard, slip-resistant flooring.
Bathroom: Grab bars, contrasting toilet seats, and walk-in showers make bathrooms safer. Caregivers should also adjust the water heater to prevent scalding. Family Handyman shows you how.
Kitchen: Installing child locks on oven controls and cabinets prevents fires and rummaging and ensures sharp utensils remain out of reach.
Deciding to DIY or Hire
It’s tempting to DIY everything to save money, but not every project is appropriate for the average homeowner to tackle. Certain projects, like plumbing and electrical work, are too risky to do yourself. Others, like replacing a shower, require heavy lifting. Before deciding to DIY a complicated project, make sure you have the skills, tools, and assistance to get the job done. Certain projects, like installing smoke detectors and grab bars, can easily be done by homeowners with basic tools like a measuring tape and drill.
Paying for Renovations
The costs of adapting a home for a person with Alzheimer’s disease can amount to a hefty sum. It’s not in everyone’s budget to pay for renovations out of pocket, but there are other options.
Home improvement loan: You can take out a personal loan to finance home improvements. However, interest rates mean you’ll pay more for the renovations than you would if paying cash.
Home equity: If your loved one owns a home, selling it frees up funds for remodeling. If the house can’t be sold, consider a home equity loan or reverse mortgage. Forbes explains the differences.
Life insurance: Life insurance policies can be sold for more than their cash value but less than the total death benefit. Settling the policy also means you no longer have to make monthly payments, which leaves more funds for renovations.
A safe home environment takes much of the stress out of Alzheimer’s caregiving. It allows caregivers to spend less energy worrying and more energy enjoying time with their loved one. To minimize confusion, aim to complete as many renovations as possible before moving your loved one into your home.