Watching a loved one age can be hard, but it’s especially distressing if health issues arise. Physical challenges, like arthritis or bone pain, can make life difficult, but it’s the mental health issues that come with age that can weigh on a family the most.
One of the most common, and most challenging, health issues facing seniors is a form of dementia called Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s affects about 5.4 million Americans, about 5.2 million of which are 65 and older. It can be your grandparent, your cousin, your sibling or even your parent who faces the diagnosis. Eventually, those with Alzheimer’s require round-the-clock care, and for many families, that means taking the loved one into their own home.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s in your home requires a lot of planning and preparation. Here are some tips to transform your home into a safe, stimulating environment that boosts everyone’s quality of life.
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While the basic safety precautions, such as installing fire extinguishers in the kitchen and smoke detectors in hallways, are always important, there are some other safeguards that need to be top priority when you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s. Some additional essential safety preparations you should make include:
Installing locks on doors that lead outside and into rooms that require supervision, like a garage filled with power tools. Wandering is a common sign and symptom of dementia, making accessibility to areas that could be hazardous a major safety concern.
Removing low lights and replacing them with bright lights that eliminate shadows and dark areas. Shadows in particular can trigger confusion and even fear in people with Alzheimer’s.
Label rooms and items that your loved one might use frequently, and put away anything that could be dangerous. Place a sign that says “Bathroom” on the bathroom door and make sure that toilet paper, towels, and hot and cold water faucets are clearly labeled. Likewise, put medicines, cleaning products, and anything else that’s potentially confusing or hazardous in cabinets with locks.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s in your home means you’ll need to balance assistance with independence. The balance you choose really depends on the degree of dementia facing family members, as well as their own unique triggers and behaviors. However, if you empower them to be independent—and safe—whenever it is possible, you can help them retain a sense of self and purpose amid the disorienting and often depressing symptoms of the disease. Some ways you can help with mental and physical stimulation include:
Arts and crafts projects that stir memories, like scrapbooking.
Involve them in activities that they used to be proud of. For example, if loved ones were proud of their lawn or their cooking, find safe activities they can do with you in those areas.
Play music, either through a speaker or an instrument. Studies have shown music makes an enormous positive impact on memory and cognitive ability for people people with Alzheimer’s.
Trying to communicate with a loved one with Alzheimer's can be a challenge to you both. You may feel frustrated trying to convey your thoughts if they simply confuse or anger your family member. While you can’t install anything in your home to make communication easier, getting your whole family together to learn simple ways to improve communication will help make your home calmer, more comfortable. and safer. These include:
Using simple words with a gentle voice.
Avoiding speaking about your loved one as if he or she isn’t in the room or is a child.
Turning off the television and other external distractions when talking.
Caregiving for someone with Alzheimer’s is rewarding but also conflicting. When you make the decision with your family to care for loved ones with dementia in your home, you are making a choice that will change all your lives. However challenging the situation may be at times, your presence and care will be their rock as they move through the stages of this disease.
about the writer:
After her Mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Lydia Chan struggled to balance the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She founded AlzheimersCaregiver.net as an online resource for fellow caregivers and seniors. In her spare time, Lydia writes articles about a range of caregiving topics.