Preparing your home for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can seem difficult and overwhelming.  Most families like to keep their loved ones at home as long as possible, to give them a sense of familiarity and safety.  Because safety is so important for those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, safeguarding your home is an extremely important step to take, even though it feels daunting.   Here are some steps you can take to make sure your home is a safe place for your loved ones:

  1. Start with a plan – the first step is always walking through your home and looking for hazardous or dangerous areas or items.  Try to see it through the eyes of someone with dementia and look out for trouble spots or areas that need to be re-worked.  
  2. Display emergency numbers clearly on the refrigerator or front door or somewhere you know your loved one will be able to see them.
  3. Make sure you have smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout your house.
  4. Keep a spare key outside of the house somewhere in case the person with Alzheimer’s locks you out of the house.
  5. Keep things simple – the less clutter you have in your home the better.  Alzheimer’s patients do much better in simple environments with not too much to look at, maneuver around, deal with, etc.  Make sure there are clear and direct paths from one room to another so they can get around easily and without potential landmines.  For example, throw rugs are dangerous and a tripping-hazard.
  6. Keep all outlets covered up with childproof covers. And make sure any cords or plugs are out of the way and can’t be tripped over.  
  7. Place labels or tape around any heating devices so your loved one knows not to touch or go near it.  
  8. Use labels – labeling rooms/drawers/items with pictures will help your loved one find their way around.  You could label the glasses cupboard with a picture of a glass, or hang a sign above the bathroom with a picture of a toilet.  
  9. Know the danger rooms – these are any areas where an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient should not go in.  This may be a room with a lot of cleaning supplies or chemicals.  It may be a medicine cabinet that needs to stay locked.  Rooms such as basements or attics should be locked off and not accessible.  Some other examples of danger zones would be workshops, hobby rooms, outdoor areas that have fireplaces or pools, and staircases.  
  10. Keep the garage safe – garages can be hazardous areas, but if you know how to keep your storage managed well, you can keep this as a safe room.  Overhead garage storage racks are one of the best ways to keep your belongings organized and off the floor, so there are no tripping hazards or the risk of your loved one getting into something dangerous.  In San Diego, Good Garage Overhead Storage specializes in providing and installing these racks. 
  11. Sanctuary room for the caregiver – you, as the caregiver, need a special place or room that is just yours.  Somewhere you can go when you need a break or a moment to collect yourself.  This may be your bedroom or a little reading nook, or a home office.  Just make sure you have a place that is just your own.  
  12. Keep your lighting bright – removing dark areas or shadows will help your loved one maneuver around without worrying about not seeing well enough.  Add night lights to dark areas and change light bulbs to brighter wattage.  
  13. Bathrooms – this can be one of the most dangerous rooms.  You may want to add shelving to keep things organized and keep some things out of reach.  Remove all medicines or oils that aren’t locked away, take out any appliances that are an electrocution hazard if dropped in water, identify the hot and cold faucets very clearly, keep the hot water temperature in your house on the lower end, and install grab bars along the bathtub or shower.  
  14. Kitchen – keep any cleaners and alcohol locked away and inaccessible.  Keep plastic bags out of reach. Install childproof latches on any cabinets or drawers that have dangerous things in them, install safety knobs on the stove, make sure you don’t have any artificial fruits or vegetables that could be mistaken for real food, and you may want to disconnect your garbage disposal.  
  15. Make sure you don’t have any space heaters within reach.  Using space heaters should only be done when you are in the same room, and afterwards they should be put away in a safe place.  
  16. You may want to use an infant monitoring system so you can see if your loved one falls or gets hurt in some way.  You can set this up in their room or in the hallway to keep an eye on things.  
  17. Remove any guns or weapons from the house or have them safely locked away and unloaded.  
  18. Remove any poisonous plants from the home.
  19. Windows and doors – make sure all windows and doors have safe screens and locks on them.  Install a device that only allows a window to be opened up so far.  You may want to install locks or alarms on doors that lead to danger zones or outside.  
  20. Keep your outdoor area safe – this may mean putting rails next to any stairs, ensuring that steps aren’t slippery, keeping outdoor gates locked and with some kind of alarm system in case your loved one attempts to leave, and making sure all fountains or pools are walled off and locked.  Be aware of your neighbors and what is going on around where you live.  

This list may feel overwhelming to you, but the best thing to do is just take it a room at a time. Spend one day working on one room and then move on to the next.  Look at each room with new eyes and ask yourself: what in this room could even REMOTELY be dangerous?  Because this is so much work, you may want to enlist the help of some family and friends and make it a renovating week or month.  And be aware of how you are communicating all of this to your loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Don’t talk down to them or patronize them. If they ask, explain clearly and directly what you are doing and why.  They may not like it, but everyone knows it’s what’s best and safest in the end that matters.  Take a deep breath, turn on some good music, and get ready to do some work!