It is never too early to start figuring out ways to change your home environment so that it is safer for the person with Alzheimer's. As the illness progresses, the person is likely to experience loss of coordination---which can result in falls and injuries---and possibly the need for a wheelchair.

Go through your house and look for potential hazards---clutter, sharp edges on furniture, fragile items that may break if the person falls or leans against them.

Other accidents may result if the person forgets how to use an appliance, or has access to weapons, alcohol, or drugs.

However, before you rush out to buy new furniture or redo the walls and floors, assess the individuals needs, your needs, and the current state of the home.

Your goals are to make only the modifications that are necessary, keep them simple, and to balance your needs against those with Alzheimer's.

Start with some of the general guidelines that follow.

General Safety Guidelines

* Keep your home as neat as possible, clutter and knickknacks are easily knocked over, and may be distracting or disorienting to the person.

* Avoid floral or still-life patterns in wall and floor coverings, upholstery, and draperies.

* Use natural lighting where possible, and position light sources so as to avoid casting shadows. Dark corners can look like caves or holes to people with Alzheimer's disease.

* Remove all throw rugs. Tack down the edges of the carpet.

* Secure all electrical and telephone cords.

* Move or rearrange any furniture that hinders walking or a wheelchair.

* Avoid using folding tables and chairs, which the person can trip over or knock over.

* Have a light source near each doorway, or use nightlights.

* Keep medications out of reach or locked away.

* If the person can no longer safely use items such as sewing machine, power tools, knives, shears, an iron, or a hair dryer, keep them in a locked closet.

* Remove guns or lock them in a closet.

* Remove poisonous plants, such as philodendron and poinsettia.

*Control access to alcohol.

* Lower the temperature on the hot-water heater so that the person cannot accidentally scald himself or herself when turning on the water. People with Alzheimer's may become less sensitive to heat and cold and may not react quickly enough to prevent injury.

* Place a sturdy chair in front of hot radiators to block access to them. Consider placing a gate around a floor furnace.

* Install security locks on windows and balcony doors.

* Place locks on your main fuse box and controls for the thermostat and hot-water heater.

* Hang bells or chimes on doors leading to the outside so that you will be alerted when the individual goes out the door.

* Check fire extinguishers and smoke alarms monthly.

* Remove all locks from inside rooms so that the person cannot lock him or her self in or deny you access.

* Keep a list of emergency phone numbers next to each phone.

(c) copyright 1994


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