Creating a Safe Home for a Spouse Who Has Dementia

Senior woman with her elder care nurse

When a spouse is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, often one of the greatest challenges their loved ones face is home safety. Fall prevention and wandering away from home and becoming lost are usually the two most pressing concerns. Creating an environment that reduces the risk for either of these is essential.

Making Your Home a Safe Haven

If you find yourself in this situation, these suggestions might be helpful in creating a safer environment for your spouse:

  • Conduct a home safety audit

It’s important to remember that people with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia often lose the ability to exercise good judgment. This includes not being able to recognize potential dangers around the home. Take a walk through your home, including opening cabinet doors and drawers, to identify possible hazards. Find safe places to lock up firearms, sharp knives, and tools. Even household cleansers should be stored safely out of sight and reach, preferably in a cabinet with a lock.

Falls are another concern. As Alzheimer’s progresses, it can cause vision loss and balance problems. Issues that may increase the risk for a fall include throw rugs, poor lighting, electric cords, and uneven floors. It’s also a good idea to install grab bars near the toilet, shower, and bed.

If you don’t feel confident conducting a home safety assessment on your own, call your spouse’s primary care physician. They can probably refer you to a physical or occupational therapist who can visit the house to complete a professional assessment.

  • Use technology to manage wandering

One side effect of Alzheimer’s that impacts as many as 60% of people with the disease is wandering from home and getting lost. If a person wanders once, they are likely to do so again. Having a home security system that alerts you when a window or exterior door is open can help warn you that a spouse with Alzheimer’s might have exited the house. Another suggestion is to invest in a mobile tracking unit. If your loved one wanders from home and isn’t able to find their way back, they can summon help with the press of a button.

  • Place visual cues around the home

Many forms of dementia can cause a person’s home to look and feel unfamiliar, even if they’ve lived in it for years. It might be difficult for them to identify where to find glasses in the kitchen or locate the bathroom. You can make it easier by creating and posting visual cues.

Visual cues are often used for seniors living in memory care communities. A poster/flyer of a shower and toilet on the bathroom door might help a spouse find the bathroom. Taping a photo of a glass on the cupboard where you store them is another example. The goal is to provide cues that make it easier for someone with memory loss to maintain a sense of independence.

  • Establish a quiet zone

Finally, a chaotic environment can trigger agitation and wandering. Both are common among adults with dementia. For times when your household gets hectic and loud, you’ll want to create a quiet zone for your senior loved one to retreat to. It might be as simple as adding a comfortable chair to a corner of the bedroom with a television and music source nearby. They can relax in their chair and watch television or listen to soft music until their anxiety passes.

More Information to Support Alzheimer’s Caregivers

While caregiving of any kind can be emotionally and physically demanding, caring for a partner with dementia is especially difficult. The more you learn about and understand the disease, the better prepared you can be. One more concern you should know about is dehydration. Adults with dementia are at increased risk for it. Recognizing Dehydration Symptoms in a Senior is a good article to read to learn more about hydration and older adults.