As a caregiver, making a residence safe for a person with dementia is a process that involves seeing the home environment through the eyes of the one that you are caring for, as they no longer see the world as you do.
Danger zones are areas of a home where specific safety risks exist. By moving tangible hazards to areas inaccessible to the one you are caring for, you create specific and controlled danger zones.
Designate Danger Zones
Seldom does a home exist that does not contain some form of chemicals, tools, kitchen utensils, cooking appliances, or utility equipment such as hot water heaters or furnaces, all of which are dangerous to a person with dementia. Some of these items should be moved to out-of-reach areas, and some require modifications to maintain safety.
With a focus on removing access from unsafe items in the home, begin the home safety process by creating designated storage areas—danger zones. Locked cabinets, armoires, closets, pantries, spare rooms, basements, garages, and external storage rooms can function as danger zones.
What Belongs in a Danger Zone?
Grooming and Bathing
Move any grooming tools that can lead to injury to locked closets or interior rooms. Consider promoting a sense of independence by allowing the one that you care for to use these items under supervision, such as:
- Hairdryers and electric curlers or wands
- Shaving tools
Medication containers should have child-proof caps. They should also be stored in a locked cabinet or designated storage area.
Small Electric Appliances and Tools
To prevent electric shock or fire, avoid the use of electric blankets. A simple spill or a wet accident in the bed could lead to harm. Use a heating pad only under supervision, and store heating pads and electric blankets out of the reach of the person under your care.
Secure small kitchen appliances such as a toaster or mixer in a locked pantry, cabinet, or storage area.
Unplug larger wall or counter-top appliances, such as a microwave.
Ensure all power tools, such as saws and drills, are stored securely in a storage area, preferably outside the home in a garage or storage building.
Cleaning Supplies and Dangerous Chemicals
The one that you care for may want to assist with cleaning or chores, which might help them feel a sense of accomplishment, but only allow this under your watchful eye and without the use of dangerous chemicals.
Cleaning supplies or chemicals, such as bleach, caustic liquids, or aerosol cans, must be secured in a designated storage area.
The garage, or an outdoor storage building, with a secure door and childproof lock, is the preferred place to store hazardous liquids and chemicals, including gasoline and motor oil.
Create a locked danger zone for all sharp objects: knives, scissors, razors, hand tools, or kitchen appliances with blades.
Disconnect the garbage disposal from its power source.
Consider keeping the keys to your vehicle or to any of the locks within the home on your presence. If this is not an option, ensure the keys are stored in a secure well-organized cabinet which enables you quick access in case of an emergency.
Glass Windows or Doors
Picture windows or doors, such as walk-through sliding doors, can be confusing to a person with dementia. To diminish danger in these zones, apply large and colorful stickers to glass doors and windows, including bathroom shower doors. Dementia impairs depth perception and coordination, so consider removing glass shower doors altogether.
Outside Access Locks
Your biggest concern when caring for someone with dementia might be that they become confused and simply walk away. So, as you scrutinize the home for specific danger zones, such as exit doors, ensure the home is set up with exterior childproof door locks and consider alarms that go off when doors and windows are opened. Ensure outside gates are also properly latched and locked.
Large Appliance and Utility Safety
To prevent burns, fire, or cooking gas emergencies, remove the knobs from the kitchen stove or range. Connect the stove to a hidden gas valve or to an electric emergency switch.
Utility equipment, such as a water heater or furnace, should be enclosed in closets or non-living areas. Also, to avoid the danger of scalding set the water temperature to 120°F or lower.
Ensure the electric panel in the home can be easily accessed by you in case of emergency, but not by the person with dementia.
Electric outlets near wet areas are considered danger zones. Install GFCI outlets, which automatically “trip” to prevent electrocution.
Fire Emergency Plans
Ensure you have the power to put out small fires by keeping a fire extinguisher in the home. Hang it in a central location but consider installing it inside a cabinet or an area not within direct eyesight or reach of the person with dementia.
Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and test them on a regular basis.
Be prepared for fire by having a well-laid out plan in place for exiting the home. Explain the evacuation process to the one you care for. If they are unable to comprehend and retain your instructions, try putting together a pictorial of the process. Explain that when an emergency occurs, they should remain calm and follow directions.
Home Safety Continues
There is much more to home safety than the creation of safety zones.
We talked about Home Safety with Dementia inside the home and Outside the Home. As we continue our series on home safety for dementia care, we will talk about 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.