Four DIY Projects That Will Make Your Home Safer For Someone With Alzheimer's
It's fair to say that people with Alzheimer's disease - particularly in later stages - don't live in the same world anymore. Alzheimer's is a highly debilitating condition, affecting the body and mind drastically. If you'll be taking someone with Alzheimer's into your home, you have to get into their world, to an extent, and adapt your home from this perspective. There are also a lot of projects you can take on yourself -- just make sure you have the right tools you need before starting, including a tape measure, a hammer and nails, carpet tape, and gloves for safety. Here are four key areas that you can work on.
Vision problems are very common in people with Alzheimer's. Depth perception is a particular concern -- according to a study published in the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, around 80% of Alzheimer's patients will develop depth perception problems. This makes stairs very difficult to traverse, as they don't know how high to lift their foot with each step, potentially leading to trips and fall.s The first step toward safety on stairs is to install a secure handrail -- Family Handyman has a step-by-step guide on how to do that here. Color contrast can also be a problem, so make the riser of the stairs a different color to the tread, either by painting wooden stairs or by laying carpet on the tread only.
Changing the lighting in your home is one of the cheaper and easier projects you can undertake -- but it's an essential one. As people age, they need brighter lights to be able to see as well, and this is especially true of Alzheimer's patients. Increasing the wattage of your bulbs is a good start, but you can also use light colors for your walls, furniture and carpets, which will give the room a brighter appearance. Don't forget natural light -- use blinds or curtains that can be rolled back completely, and if possible, remove any obstacles outdoors that block the light, such as trees or hedges. Finally, make sure the lighting is even -- dark areas or strange shadows on walls can be scary and may cause distress. In addition, make sure your loved one gets annual vision and hearing exams. They are generally covered by insurance and can help identify a potential problem such as macular degeneration or hearing loss that could be contributing to difficulty.
Alzheimer's disease can affect how a person walks, and patients tend to develop a shuffling walk, not lifting their feet very high from the ground. This can happen at any stage of the disease, but is more common in moderate to sever cases. Remove any potential trip hazards from the floor, including door sills, rugs, and electrical cables. If you need to use electrical extension cords -- perhaps to plug in the extra lamps you need to create even light -- consider getting extra outlets installed instead. If you have wooden floors, avoid polishing them, which can create a confusing glare, and if you have carpets, replace patters with monotone versions in all walking areas. This will help prevent confusion and uncertainty when walking.
Those with Alzheimer's may have a hard time communicating that there is a problem such as foot pain or an ill-fitting shoe, and falls and/or poor mobility are the unnecessary consequence. If your loved one is a fall risk, an annual exam with a podiatrist can provide a helpful solution. There are devices such as a Moore Balance Brace that is covered by insurance that can help prevent falls; and, if your loved one is diabetic, they generally qualify for diabetic shoes (if medically necessary) that are lighter and easier to lace or velcro. In addition, Medicare covers five podiatry visits each year for those with diabetes or peripheral arterial disease, so a doctor can evaluate their feet for unknown ulcers, skin issues, pain, and nail care.
The bathroom is a crucial room to get right -- a properly renovated bathroom can help someone with Alzheimer's maintain their safety, independence, and dignity. Of course, for some bathroom improvements, you'll need to bring in professionals. For example, a lower sink or an adjustable-height sink will be essential should your loved one use a wheelchair. The toilet, however, is more accessible when higher -- but you can buy toilet risers with built-in arms if you don't want to replace the whole thing. Grab bars and handrails around the shower and sink are also important, and if you can afford it, turning the whole room into a wet room would be ideal.
Preparing your home for someone with Alzheimer's is not just about safety. It's about overall quality of life and helping them to go about their normal daily activities independently. You can't prepare for everything, and you'll need to adapt to their changing needs on an ongoing basis. But if you adapt your home in these key ways, you've gone a long way toward helping your loved one function well in their daily lives.