Outside the Home
Home safety outside of the main living area of the home for people with dementia is crucial and it takes on an entirely different aspect compared to home safety within the interior living area.
Safety and Level of Independence
The level of safety outside of the home required for people with dementia rests upon whether they are still independent, able to care for themselves on a daily basis, able to drive, or whether they have a caregiver that lives with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Dementia alters how a person responds to their environment, and symptoms can come on suddenly or gradually, so It is essential to plan for complete safety in the home environment regardless of the level of independence.
Evaluating Outside the Home Safety
When evaluating any living area, remember that in any stage of dementia your loved one can become confused or disoriented in unfamiliar as well as previously familiar surroundings. People with dementia also experience impaired balance and depth perception, which can lead to tripping or falls.
The creation of a dementia-friendly environment starts with assessing the living area through the eyes of a person with dementia. Assess each outdoor area for hazards such as latches and locks that do not provide security, loose handrails, or the lack of handrails, uneven pavement, slick surfaces, objects in the lawn that can be tripped over, or a lack of lighting.
Break the assessment down by area:
Porches, Decks, and Patios
Several steps, or one small step, that leads from a house to an outdoor living area can be a safety hazard. For a person with dementia, especially an elderly person, consider the installation of a ramp to eliminate the step(s) altogether.
Decks are generally above ground. To prevent the person with dementia from stepping or falling over the side of the deck, install safety rails around the perimeter.
For people in late-stage dementia, consider installing a child-proof gate at the top of any ramp or steps leading down from a porch or deck.
Fencing may be the safety barrier that allows a person with dementia to independently leave the house and spend time outdoors. This can be therapeutic in the early stages of dementia, especially when activities, including meals, can be enjoyed in an outdoor space.
Check gates to ensure they latch well and consider installing childproof locks to ensure your loved one cannot wander away.
Evaluate and look for:
- Clutter or low to the ground items such as garden tools, hoses, decorative fencing, or lighting fixtures can be a tripping hazard to even the most coordinated individuals.
- Walkways made of smooth concrete are ideal if they are not slick. Uneven stone paths can be dangerous to a person with dementia as their sense of balance diminishes. Wooden walk or decking materials are safe if they provide an even surface to walk on, but they may become slick when wet.
- Steps should be well-marked with fluorescent or red tape, non-slippery decals, and handrails must be installed.
- Inclines in yards can be difficult for many people to maneuver on foot, but this is especially dangerous for those that have dementia. Steep steps often accompany inclines in yards. To avoid a fall, ensure the person with dementia has no access to a yard that contains either steep steps or inclines.
- Trees and greenery may be a part of landscaping that a person with dementia loves, but they may not notice low hanging branches or offshoots. Tree branches and other greenery must be trimmed to a safe level to avoid injury to the eyes or body.
Don’t forget the garden! People with dementia may enjoy gardening, especially if they were avid gardeners prior to their diagnosis. Schedule gardening time as you would any activity but ensure your loved one with dementia does not have unsupervised access to gardening tools or chemicals. Above ground gardens, especially those that are waist level, are easy on the back and might encourage your loved one to spend healthy time outdoors.
Garages and Storage Buildings
Garages and storage buildings are not optimal areas for people with dementia as they often contain hazardous chemicals, gasoline, motorized vehicles, and lawn equipment. Check for solid locks on both the doors and windows to prevent unsupervised entry.
People in the early stages of dementia may still be able to drive, but as time advances, the keys must be removed from your loved one. Store automobile keys in a locked box or in a secure area and don’t forget to include keys to heavy machinery like riding lawn mowers.
Exercise is known to improve brain health, including swimming. Water aquatics is less strenuous on the joints compared to other types of exercise, and it can be calming as well.
People that were good swimmers prior to their diagnosis of dementia may find swimming especially therapeutic. Swimming may promote a sense of independence and joy as they partake in a much-loved activity.
The problem with having an unsupervised pool at a home is that people with dementia, especially as the condition advances, may lose their sense of depth, or lack coordination, and may even make a poor decision and enter the pool even if they no longer swim well. Supervision is key to pool safety with people that have dementia.
The pool must be surrounded by fencing or decking with a locked gate. If fencing is not an option, doors or windows that lead to the pool area must be locked with childproof locks and alarms. As an extra safety measure, consider installing alarmed pool sensors that detect movement or below surface disturbances.
Ensure all walkways, porches, and other entry or exit areas are well-lit. Motion detecting outdoor security lighting is a great option because it does not continuously light the outdoor space, which helps to prevent the person with dementia from getting their days and nights confused.
Basements that aren’t a part of the actual living area are typically a threat to the safety of people with dementia as most have steep non-carpeted steps, contain mechanical systems, and are often used as storage areas for chemicals and other dangerous substances.
Install a childproof lock and consider alarming the door that leads to the basement. If the basement is ground level on the outside, ensure exterior doors and windows are also locked.
Consider relocating laundry equipment and other necessary day-to-day appliances from the basement to the ground floor.
Home Safety Continued
There is much more to home safety than a precautionary evaluation of the indoor and outdoor spaces.
As we continue our series on home safety for dementia care, we will focus on danger zones, important things to have on hand as a caregiver, as well as how to keep your loved one with dementia safe if they wander at night.
If you are a caregiver and would like to talk about the best options for the future, give us a call at 512-399-5089. We can help you through every step of the way.