Modifications for people living with dementia

AARP offers a terrific guide for helping people stay in their homes regardless of age, health issues, or early stage cognitive decline. You’ll find it online, or I can email you a copy. In addition to their information, I want to add ideas for those living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. Although a diagnosis of these is frightening, often there are many more years of productive life ahead especially when the individual and family are aware of what may transpire over time.

First, be certain that you have a correct diagnosis. That means visiting a gerontologist or neurologist. Maybe it’s a change in metabolism; perhaps a UTI. And if it is dementia, what kind? What resources are available? What advance planning should be made?  If you are blown off with “Everyone forgets” or a quick dispensing of a prescription, it’s time to pry and drag out the forceful you who requests (or demands) the truth, the possibilities, and help beyond masking symptoms and solving nothing. 

We know that independent living, nutritional meals, camaraderie, and mental stimulation help maintain brain power. Let’s put these to use.

The entrance to your home: Is your sidewalk paved, free of cracking cement, and handy to driveway and street? Is the outside of your home well lit – front and back? How many steps are there and are these easy to navigate or in disrepair? Are there handrails on each side of the steps? 

If you have a porch, is there a railing to prevent a slip into the shrubs? Is your doormat secure and unlikely to cause tripping? Is there a chair or table handy for resting packages or yourself as you wrestle for keys?  Reach for your door handle. Is it lever as opposed to round? A lever is easier open especially with arthritic hands. 

As you enter, are light switches handy and is there another place to put bags as you close the door. With the door closed, push down the lever. If it goes down, the door should be unlocked, but check this. 

There was period when manufacturers had products where the lever went down, the occupant left and pulled the door shut, only to find a locked door behind and no keys in hand. My sister locked herself out in this way with my brother-in-law at work. Fortunately, kindly strollers discovered her wandering, guided her home, and found an open back door. Extra protection inside includes a swing bar or chain lock. However, this can cause confusion for someone with dementia as s/he figures out how to open the door to let you in or to let him/herself out. 

Right inside of the door, have a place for storing shoes and jackets. With repetition leaving these belongings ready for exit reduces stress when shoes go missing and jackets are tangled up elsewhere. In early stage driving is still possible, however later, when Granddad should not be zipping about, “false” keys on the hook, keys that operate no vehicle, may add to the sense of independence, “I could drive if these darned old keys worked.”

In the living room, are all cords tucked away to avoid tripping and falling? Are light switches handy? A clap-on or voice activated lamp can save frustration. Are chairs and couches easy to get into and out of – the right height for short legs – with armrests for boosting out of the chair? Is there a handy storage basket for remotes, phone chargers, and phones? Wall-mounted televisions are wise and prevent a potential crash if a TV is bumped. Rugs can become hazardous if frayed or curled. Secure edges with double-sided tape. Smooth floors are excellent for walkers and wheelchairs but be careful that these are not too slippery.

A well-lit kitchen is vital with at least one lower counter area so that a person can sit when preparing food. This might be a good spot for a microwave, too, for an easy reach and no chance of a burn that can occur with the over-the-range model. Open storage areas for cups and plates offer easy access and stop the prospect of a head gouge from an open cabinet. I love my French door refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom. However, with a wheelchair the bottom drawer becomes inaccessible. 

We/re rolling — More to come next week as we venture into other living quarters.