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Create a safe home for your memory-impaired loved one

For nearly 15 million Americans, caring for an aging parent or spouse with memory loss has become an unexpected part of daily life. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 13% of people over 65 (and 43% over 85) suffer some form of dementia, with the majority living at home with their spouses or adult children. For many, their once-familiar homes have become obstacles rather than sources of comfort.

10 low-cost home adaptations

Caregivers are often advised to “dementia-proof” their homes in the same way they’d baby-proof it for a visiting toddler. However, impaired adults present challenges no toddler could, from deciding to cut the grass during a January snowstorm to wandering the darkened house at 2 a.m. These inexpensive home modifications can help you cope with your loved one’s changing abilities:

  1. Lock doors to particularly unsafe places like garages and basements. To discourage your loved one from going outside unaccompanied, disable regular doorknobs and install functional doorknobs high on outside doors. Or, to make doors less obvious, paint or wallpaper them to match the walls or cover them with a mural that looks like a bookcase.
  2. Create a safe “wander route” in the house that your loved one can traverse on his or her own. Consider marking it with reflective tape to follow (also a good technique for showing the way to the bathroom).
  3. Remove clutter to reduce confusion, overstimulation, and the risk of falls.
  4. Turn down your hot water heater’s setting to no more than 120 degrees to minimize the risk of scalding.
  5. Remove locks from the bathroom door to eliminate the chance your loved will get trapped in the bathroom.
  6. Turn off electricity to the garbage disposal to prevent injury.
  7. Remove knobs from the stove or install a hidden shutoff switch if cooking is no longer a safe activity. Unplug microwaves and toasters. Lock up knives, household cleaners, and medications.
  8. Park the car out of sight to discourage your loved one’s urge to get behind the wheel. Hide the keys and, if necessary, disable the car (for example, disconnect battery cables or remove the distributor cap).
  9. Create barriers to radiators, gas fireplaces, woodstoves, and other burn hazards.
  10. Install door chimes that alert you to your loved one’s movements.

For more home-adaptation tips, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s Safety Center.

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