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Barbara Garwood: A Caregiver’s Life

An Ounce of Prevention

We tend to think of our homes as our safe place, our refuge from the outside world. We fill our homes with our favorite things and our best memories. It is our retreat, our sanctuary. For someone with dementia, home can still be a safe place, but it will take some work on the part of the caregiver to transform it from an accident waiting to happen to the safe place you want and need it to be.

Consider that the person you are caring for has dementia and is losing (or has lost) the ability to complete multi-step tasks. They may be unable to think through the logical steps needed to operate many of the devices in their home (coffee makers, washing machines, stoves), to accurately set the temperature for heating and cooling systems, or to process the logical steps for filling the bathtub.

This loss of functioning can have sometimes interesting and perhaps catastrophic results. You may wonder why the house feels like an oven, only to find that the thermostat has been set to 85 degrees in August.  Your mother’s favorite saucepan may appear in the sink one day, no longer resembling stainless steel but rather a burnt shade of “someone forgot the water boiling on the stove.” If your loved one turns on the water for a bath and gets sidetracked, you may find yourself with an indoor pool. If they mistake that fresh smelling lemon disinfectant for lemonade, you have a much more serious problem.

While it may seem that there is danger all around, there are steps you can take to increase the safety of your home for your loved one. Here are just a few tips:

  • Check the temperature of your water heater. Set it no higher than 120 degrees to prevent accidental scalding.
  • Put safety knobs on the stove or consider unplugging the stove altogether.
  • Install smoke detectors in the kitchen and bedrooms.  If you already have these in place, make sure the batteries are in good working order.
  • Place childproof plugs in unused electrical outlets.
  • Store cleaning products and dangerous chemicals in a locked cabinet or install safety latches on cabinet doors.
  • Remove small appliances from the home. Toasters, blenders, griddles, curling irons, hair dryers, etc. are accidents in the making.
  • Keep alcoholic beverages in a locked cabinet.
  • Place medications (over-the-counter and prescription) in a locked cabinet or install safety latches on the cabinet doors.

This next tip deserves its own paragraph.  If there is a firearm in your home you have two choices:  remove it (best option!) or lock it up.  If you lock it up, the key must be completely unavailable to your loved one.  Remember that your loved one’s judgment is impaired, their vision and hearing may be impaired, and they may become paranoid. You definitely do not want them to be armed.

For additional tips on keeping your loved one safe at home, check out The National Institute on Aging’s website. Their booklet titled “Caring for a Person with Alzheimer’s Disease” is filled with practical advice for caregivers. The publication is free and can be ordered online at https://www.nia.nih.gov.  Once on their site, click on “Health and Aging” and then choose “Publications” from the drop-down box. You will find this booklet and many other great resources to make your caregiving journey easier.  Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Barbara Garwood is the transitional care coordinator for Lutheran Services Carolinas.  For more information about caregiving, call Trinity at Home at 704-603-2776.

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