When you are caring for people with dementia, you need to encourage them to be independent (do things for themselves) but at the same time you need to make sure that they cannot get hurt or put themselves in danger. A simple fall can result in that person no longer being able to lead an active and independent life. Small accidents can and will happen in the home but there are ways in which we can try to prevent these accidents from happening.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
- Dementia does affect the person’s memory.
- The person with dementia does not always know what is right and wrong.
- As people get older they fall more easily because with age come changes in vision, hearing, muscle strength, co-ordination and reflexes.
- They also move slower than other people. This can be dangerous for them. An example is if they touch a hot plate or pot on the stove, they are slower in taking their hand away and so will get very badly burnt.
- Some people may also have other diseases or disabilities that make it harder for them to do things.
- Also, they may be taking medication that can cause them to feel dizzy.
- If the person with dementia is very nervous or anxious, accidents will also happen more easily.
WAYS TO MAKE THE HOME SAFER
- Ensure that the person has her/his eyes tested. If s/he wears glasses, the eyes need to be tested every two years.
- If the person loses her/his balance easily, ask the doctor if the medication is affecting her/him.
- If the person gets up at night, leave a small light on to show theway, or give the person a torch, if s/he remembers how to use it.
- Also, during the day, make sure that there is enough light so that the person can see where s/he is going.
- Make sure that there are no loose mats or tiles, toys or mess on the floor that someone might fall over.
- Remove all pieces of furniture that someone might fall over when moving about the house.
- Do not move furniture around because the person may become confused.
- Be careful that the people will not slip on the floor and get hurt. Also make sure that, if anything is spilt on the floor, it is wiped up straight away.
- Another problem can be electric cords or wires lying on the floor. The person can very easily fall over them.
- Furniture that is broken or wobbles can cause falls and injuries.
- Older people usually like to wear their slippers in the house. Just make sure that the slippers fit properly and they are not slopping around in them.
- If the person can fall easily, handrails can be put on the walls, to hold onto. It is useful to put one on the wall in the toilet and shower or next to the bath, so that the person can hold onto it to sit down or stand up. Handrails are also useful next to any steps inside or outside the house.
- Encourage the person to use a walking stick or a walker if her/his walking is unsteady
- If the person drinks alcohol, too much of it can also cause a fall.
- Encourage the person to stand up slowly. Getting up too quickly often makes people feel dizzy.
- Being too hot may also make someone feel dizzy.
If someone does fall and looks bad or is in pain, do not move the person and do not give anything to drink in case s/he needs to have an operation. Cover the person with a blanket and put a small pillow under the head, then send for an ambulance or, if there are no ambulances, ask for help from the neighbours to get the person to hospital.
- Lock all medicines and tablets away in case the person swallows them.
- It is very important to lock away everything used for cleaning, as well as paraffin, methylated spirits and drain cleaner, in case the person with dementia drinks one of them, believing it to be cooldrink or medicine.
- If you do think that something poisonous has been swallowed, the person must be taken immediately to the nearest hospital or clinic. Take with you the poison that you think was swallowed, to show the doctor. If you have a phone, you can phone the ‘Poison Control Centre’ on 0800 333 444 and tell them what the person has swallowed. They will tell you what to do.
- The danger of the person getting burnt can be a big problem. Ensure that all matches, candles, lighters, gas heaters and small gas stoves are locked away.
- Candles are a big problem in causing fires as they are easily knocked over, or clothes and blankets touch the flame and start a fire.
- Never dry clothes over a fire or heater as this can cause a fire.
- If using coal for heating, make sure that there are no holes in the stove or chimney that will let the smoke into the room. This smoke is poisonous and the people in the room can die from it.
- If there is an open fire in the room, it should always be covered with a fire screen that cannot fall over.
If the person does get burnt, put the part that is burnt into cold water for at least 10 minutes to stop the burning and help stop the pain. If the person takes the part that is burnt out of the water and if the pain starts again, put it back in the water. The burn will warm the water, so change the water or add cold water. Do not take off any clothes or the skin might come off with them. If the hands have been burnt, take off any rings, watches or bracelets because burnt skin can swell up. Do not put anything on the burn, just cover it with a clean wet cloth and take the person to the nearest clinic or hospital.
IN THE KITCHEN
- If there is electricity, have an electric kettle that switches itself off when the water has boiled. If there is no electricity and gas is used to boil the water and the person is at home alone, make a drink that is not too hot and leave it in a vacuum flask or covered jug.
- Keep the very sharp knives in a safe place, but make sure that anything that the person can safely use is within reach, so that s/he does not have to climb on a chair and perhaps fall.
- People with dementia seem to like turning on taps and unfortunately it might be the hot water tap and so they burn themselves. If possible, remove the handles of the hot water taps and keep a “tap turner” in your pocket. You just put the “tap turner” over the top of the tap where the handle would go and open the tap with it. The “tap turner” is like a small plastic spanner. If you cannot get a “tap turner”, a small spanner that can be bought from a hardware store will also work.
- People with dementia should not use an electric blanket in bed in case they wet themselves. If a hot water bottle is used, it must have its own cover or be wrapped in a towel.
- If people with dementia smoke, make sure that they do not smoke on their own. You will need to keep the cigarettes and lighter or matches for them. It is important that they do not smoke in bed.
- Never take an electric heater into the bathroom as anyone in the bathroom can be electrocuted if it gets wet.
- Always make sure that a window is left open, even just a little bit, if you are using gas, paraffin or coal to cook or to heat the room.
- Keep a torch with spare batteries in the house in case the lights go out.
- Use rubber mats in the bathroom. A coloured rubber mat or wet towel in the shower or placed on the bottom of the bath will stop the person from slipping.
- If there is an electric geyser in the house, set the water temperature to 48.8◦C or lower so that the person does not get burnt.
- Keep a list of telephone numbers that you can phone for help. Keep this list next to the phone if there is one in the house. If not, keep the
- list with the telephone card so you can use it when you phone from a call box or ask someone to phone for you.
- If the person lives alone or is left alone for a while, ask a friend or good neighbour to check on the person and watch out in case something goes wrong.
- If you feel you can trust them, leave a spare set of keys with friends or neighbours and leave a telephone number with them or tell them where you are going.
- Put locks on doors and cupboards so that you can lock away anything that might hurt the person. People with dementia do like to open drawers and cupboards, unpack them or just go through them, so try to leave one cupboard open for them or they might get very anxious if they can’t open anything.
Further reading: http://www.alzinfo.org/alzheimers-treatment-modifying.asp