"Redesigning" A Space for Those With Dementia
Families often become aware that something may be wrong when a parent who once kept a clean and neat home starts ignoring or losing interest in their surroundings. Items may begin to pile up as a loved one insists that these things cannot be thrown away. Things that the person may have never thought of keeping in the past such as plastic and paper bags, newspapers, ATM receipts and other items begin to appear.
Not knowing where to put these things and possibly running out of space, items begin to accumulate and create a hazard as they block passageways and rooms. Light bulbs that burn out remain unchanged. Food, pushed to the back of the refrigerator and forgotten about begins to deteriorate and may sometimes get eaten by mistake. Things that may break in a household remain broken. These issues and others can create a dangerous environment for a loved one diagnosed with dementia.
When people ask what steps they should be taking in planning for someone who has recently been diagnosed with dementia, we suggest that after reviewing advance directives and putting care plans in place, they take a good look at their loved one's home and think about ways they can address safety issues. Here are some things to start with:
- Remove rugs that have fringes and don't have a non-skid backing. If floors are slippery, place rugs without fringes and with non-skid backings in appropriate areas.
- Make sure all electrical fixtures are in good working order, that lighting is added, where needed, and all exposed electrical cords are removed.
- Check floors and stairs to make sure they are level and safe.
- Clutter is a hazard to someone who is moving around their home; it is also a fire hazard. Routinely go through the house and discard most of, but not all of your loved one's "stash." Be sure to check garbage pails before you toss the contents to make sure nothing has been thrown in there that shouldn't have been.
- Go through the refrigerator at least once a week and discard anything past an expiration date and other items that don't look or smell good.
There are some good books on the market that address environmental concerns including:
- "The 36 Hour Day" by Mace/Rabins
- "Caregiving at Home" by William Leahy, MD
- "Elderdesign: Designing and Furnishing a Home for Your Later Years" by Rosemary Bakker