Making Your Home Safer for a Loved One with Alzheimer's

"A person with Alzheimer's disease might perceive a dark area of flooring surrounded by white as a hole that they need to step over," explained Raia, adding that glare on shiny floors might be seen as water or ice on the floor, which a person with Alzheimer's may try to avoid.

For all older people -- not just those with dementia -- it makes sense to eliminate throw rugs anywhere in the home that may slip or pose a tripping hazard. Covering up sharp edges on furniture is another wise idea.

Changing the Bedroom

"The bedroom shouldn't be a place for the Alzheimer's patient to hang out because there is a tendency to self isolate," advised Raia.

Make sure that the bedroom is comfortable and offers a good place to sleep. He also recommended using a brightly colored quilt to visually define the bed and keeping the number of items on top of a nightstand or bureau to a minimum.

Simplifying Closets to Make Dressing Easier

The bedroom closet can be overwhelming to the Alzheimer's patient who has difficulties with making decisions. So, one solution is to limit the number of choices.

"Take a good deal out of the bedroom closet," suggested Raia, "leaving just four or five outfits for the person to wear." And when you pull out clothing for the day, give the person a choice of two outfits.

To make changing clothes easier, he also recommends that caregivers lay out the garments in the order that the person would be putting them on, and to verbally cue the person while they dress to reinforce this sequence.

What's more, there should be good nightlights throughout the home, but especially to mark the path between the bedroom and the bathroom. Trudeau recommended that people invest in photosensitive night lights, which automatically go on as darkness falls and shut off as more daylight enters a room.

Securing Exits and Stairs

In the early stages of the disease, caregivers are often most concerned about their loved one walking away and getting lost and potentially injured, a process known as wandering.

"It actually happens not as often as you would think, given the press that it gets," pointed out Calkins.

Still, it's said to occur in 60 percent of those with Alzheimer's disease. And when it does, it can be extremely frightening.

Besides registering for a nationwide program such as the Alzheimer's Association Safe Return Program, which provides identification jewelry to participants registered in their database and helps coordinate search and rescue efforts, experts also advise installing slide bolt locks on all exit doors in areas where the person is less likely to see it.

"Put the lock higher up on the door if the Alzheimer's patient is shorter and lower for those who are tall," advised Trudeau.

In addition to the locks, he also encouraged the use of a motion sensor on the door so the caregiver is warned if the person is leaving.

Stairs can also become a problem for those with Alzheimer's as their depth perception wanes. Trudeau offered one inexpensive solution -- mark the steps with a contrasting color duct tape or carpet tape so they can be more easily seen.

Ultimately, the goal is to enable the person with Alzheimer's disease to remain in the home for as long as possible.

"Although there is no such thing as a safe home," said Trudeau, "all we can hope to do is make things safer."

------- For more information on memory, brain health and Alzheimer's disease, visit the OnCall+ Alzheimer's Center at

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