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Worrying About Safety

People with memory loss lose their sense of "danger" quite early in the disease. They become unsafe with power tools, lawnmowers, snowblowers, cars, medications, propane tanks, and vulnerable to unscrupulous individuals and scams very early in the disease.

While you can not protect the patient from all possible harm, you can decrease the potential for harm by recognizing and preventing the possibilities. Try to remove the car when the patient begins to ask directions, follows too close, causes accidents by stopping too soon, or misses common traffic signals.

Hire someone to mow the grass and shovel or blow the snow. Contact your nearest Area Office on Aging in the blue government pages of your phone book to locate chore services. Chore services can help with these services. Turn the water heater to about 110 degrees. Remove power tools.

Recognize that telephone solicitors target people with mild memory loss and plan to stop "junk" mail. This may mean renting a post-office box without the patient's knowledge.

Supervise or administer all medications early in the disease -- particularly insulin, Coumadin (blood thinner), Cognex, and other potentially toxic medications. Avoid having the patient change the propane tank -- especially if he/she smokes.

No guns, ammunition, or hunting knives in the house, please. Pull the knobs off of the stove when it is not in use. Put away knives, the blender, mixer, toaster, food processor, and hot appliances when not in use.

Store medications and liquor in either a locked cupboard or a place where the patient will not find them. Have the patient smoke in a single area, preferably the kitchen.

Avoid having cigarettes near upholstery. If you see upholstery smoking, do not try to extinguish it. If possible, move the piece outside. Call the fire department. If the piece of furniture can not be moved, leave the house immediately.

"Safety-Proof" the house as if you had a visiting toddler, evaluating every possible thing that pose safety hazards. Recognize that the patient loses their sense of danger very early in the disease. Simply telling them to be careful will not be effective, as the patient is unable to use reasoning.

Supported by: Iowa Scottish Rite Masonic Foundation,
National Caregiving Training Project,
University of Iowa College of Nursing,
Gerontology Nursing Intervention Center
Research Development and intervention Core

Developed by: Geri R. Hall, Ph.D., ARNP, CNS
Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist
Mayo Clinic Scottsdale
13400 E. Shea Boulvard
Scottsdale, Arizona 85259
Phone: 602-301-8111


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