Home Safety Room-By-Room
Adapted from pages 7-14 of the booklet Home Safety for People with Alzheimer's Disease by the Alzheimer's Disease Education & Referral Center. This page accompanies the Home Safety class in the classroom.
Prevention begins with a safety check of every room in your home. Use the following room-by-room checklist to alert you to potential hazards and to record any changes you need to make. You can buy products or gadgets necessary for home safety at stores carrying hardware, electronics, medical supplies, and children's items.
Keep in mind that it may not be necessary to make all of the suggested changes. This booklet covers a wide range of safety concerns that may arise, and some modifications may never be needed. It is important, however, to re-evaluate home safety periodically as behavior and abilities change.
Your home is a personal and precious environment. As you go through this checklist, some of the changes you make may impact your surroundings positively, and some may affect you in ways that may be inconvenient or undesirable. It is possible, however, to strike a balance. Caregivers can make adaptations that modify and simplify without severely disrupting the home. You may want to consider setting aside a special area for yourself, a space off-limits to anyone else and arranged exactly as you like. Everyone needs private, quiet time, and as a caregiver, this becomes especially crucial.
A safe home can be a less stressful home for the person with AD, the caregiver, and family members. You don't have to make these changes alone. You may want to enlist the help of a friend, professional, or community service such as the Alzheimer's Association.
Throughout the Home
- Display emergency numbers and your home address near all telephones.
- Use a telephone answering machine when you cannot answer calls. The person with AD often is unable to take messages or may be a target for telephone exploitation by solicitors. When the answering machine is on, turn down the phone bell to avoid disruptive ringing.
- Install smoke alarms near all bedrooms; check their functioning and batteries frequently.
- Avoid the use of flammable and volatile compounds near gas water heaters. Do not store these materials in an area where a gas pilot light is used.
- Install secure locks on all outside doors and windows.
- Hide a spare house key outside in case the person with AD locks you out of the house.
- Avoid the use of extension cords if possible by placing lamps and appliances close to electrical outlets. Tack extension cords to the baseboards of a room to avoid tripping.
- Cover unused outlets with childproof plugs.
- Place red tape around floor vents, radiators, and other heating devices to deter the person with AD from standing on or touching a hot grid.
- Check all rooms for adequate lighting.
- Place light switches at the top and the bottom of stairs.
- Stairways should have at least one handrail that extends beyond the first and last steps. If possible, stairways should be carpeted or have safety grip strips.
- Keep all medications (prescription and over-the-counter) locked. Each bottle of prescription medicine should be clearly labeled with the patient's name, name of the drug, drug strength, dosage frequency, and expiration date. Child-resistant caps are available if needed.
- Keep all alcohol in a locked cabinet or out of reach of the person with AD. Drinking alcohol can increase confusion.
- If smoking is permitted at all, monitor while the person with AD is smoking. Remove matches, cigarettes, and ashtrays. With these reminders out of sight, the person may forget the desire to smoke.
- Avoid clutter, which can create confusion and danger. Throw out/recycle newspapers and magazines regularly. Keep all walk areas free of furniture.
- Keep plastic bags out of reach. A person with AD may choke or suffocate.
- Remove all guns or other weapons from the home, or safety proof them by installing safety locks or by removing ammunition and firing pins.
- Lock all power tools and machinery in the garage, workroom, or basement.
- Remove all poisonous plants from the home. Check with local nurseries or poison control centers for a list of poisonous plants. Home Safety for People with Alzheimer's Disease page 10
- Keep fish tanks out of reach. The combination of glass, water, electrical pumps, and potentially poisonous aquatic life could be harmful to a curious person with AD.
Outside Approaches to the House
- Keep steps sturdy and textured to prevent falls in wet or icy weather.
- Mark the edges of steps with bright or reflective tape.
- Consider a ramp with handrails into the home rather than steps.
- Eliminate uneven surfaces or walkways, hoses, or other objects that may cause a person to trip.
- Restrict access to a swimming pool by fencing it off with a locked gate, covering it, and keeping it closely supervised when in use.
- In the patio area, remove the fuel source and fire starters from any grills when not in use, and supervise use when the person with AD is present.
- Place a small bench or table by the entry door to hold parcels while unlocking the door.
- Make sure outside lighting is adequate. Light sensors that turn on lights automatically as you approach the house are available and may be useful. They also may be used in other parts of the home.
- Prune bushes and foliage well away from walkways and doorways.
- Consider a NO SOLICITING sign for the front gate or door.
- Remove scatter rugs and throw rugs.
- Use textured strips or nonskid wax on hardwood floors to prevent slipping.
- Install childproof door latches on storage cabinets and drawers designated for breakable or dangerous items. Lock away all household cleaning products, matches, knives, scissors, blades, small appliances, and valued china.
- If prescription or nonprescription drugs are kept in the kitchen, store them in a locked cabinet.
- Remove scatter rugs and foam pads from the floor.
- Remove knobs from the stove, or install an automatic shut-off switch.
- Do not use or store flammable liquids in the kitchen. Lock them in the garage or in an outside storage unit.
- Keep a night-light in the kitchen.
- Remove or secure the family junk drawer. A person with AD may eat small items such as matches, hardware, erasers, plastics, etc.
- Remove artificial fruits and vegetables or food-shaped kitchen magnets, which might appear to be edible.
- Insert a drain trap in the kitchen sink to catch anything that may otherwise become lost or clog the plumbing.
- Consider dismantling the garbage disposal. People with AD may place objects or their own hands in the disposal.
- Use a night-light.
- Use an intercom device (often used for infants) to alert you to any noises indicating falls or a need for help. This also is an effective device for bathrooms.
- Remove scatter rugs.
- Remove portable space heaters. If you use portable fans, be sure that objects cannot be placed in the blades.
- Be cautious when using electric mattress pads, electric blankets, electric sheets, and heating pads, all of which may cause burns. Keep controls out of reach.
- Move the bed against the wall for increased security, or place the mattress on the floor.
- Do not leave a severely impaired person with AD alone in the bathroom.
- Remove the lock from the bathroom door to prevent the person with AD from getting locked inside.
- Place nonskid adhesive strips, decals, or mats in the tub and shower. If the bathroom is uncarpeted, consider placing these strips next to the tub, toilet, and sink.
- Use washable wall-to-wall bathroom carpeting to prevent slipping on wet tile floors.
- Use an extended toilet seat with handrails, or install grab bars beside the toilet.
- Install grab bars in the tub/shower. A grab bar in contrasting color to the wall is easier to see.
- Use a foam rubber faucet cover (often used for small children) in the tub to prevent serious injury should the person with AD fall.
- Use plastic shower stools and a hand-held showerhead to make bathing easier.
- In the shower, tub, and sink, use a single faucet that mixes hot and cold water to avoid burns.
- Adjust the water heater to 120 degrees to avoid scalding tap water.
- Insert drain traps in sinks to catch small items that may be lost or flushed down the drain.
- Store medications (prescription and nonprescription) in a locked cabinet. Check medication dates and throw away outdated medications.
- Remove cleaning products from under the sink, or lock them away.
- Use a night-light.
- Remove small electrical appliances from the bathroom. Cover electrical outlets. If men use electric razors, have them use a mirror outside the bathroom to avoid water contact.
- Clear all walk areas of electrical cords.
- Remove scatter rugs or throw rugs. Repair or replace torn carpet.
- Place decals at eye level on sliding glass doors, picture windows, or furniture with large glass panels to identify the glass pane.
- Do not leave the person with AD alone with an open fire in the fireplace, or consider alternative heating sources. Remove matches and cigarette lighters.
- Keep the controls for cable or satellite TV, VCR, and stereo system out of sight.
- Keep the door to the laundry room locked if possible.
- Lock all laundry products in a cabinet.
- Remove large knobs from the washer and dryer if the person with AD tampers with machinery.
- Close and latch the doors and lids to the washer and dryer to prevent objects from being placed in the machines.