Today I’m talking about how to modify your home to make it more dementia-friendly. I’m not focusing on million dollar makeovers. We are talking cheap and simple. I’m nothing if not realistic, folks.
If you are negotiating the early stages of a dementia, I know that some of these ideas might seem extreme to you at this point. I understand that not every tip on my list will work for every individual and every home, but my hope is that it will serve as food for thought–and that it will help you come up with additional ideas that will benefit you and your loved one. If you have advice that you’d like to share, I encourage you to put it in the comments below.
Tips for Dementia-Friendly Homes
- Remove the rugs. Rugs increase the risk of falls for those with dementia–and for the rest of us, as well.
- Let the light in. During the day, keep the curtains and blinds open to encourage wakefulness, but be aware that glare might be disorienting to someone with dementia.
- Avoid overly-patterned carpet, wallpaper, furniture, curtains, shower curtains, and bedspreads. As dementia progresses, busy patterns contribute to visual overload and can be perceived as dead animals, bugs, dirt, etc.
- If mirrors become confusing for a person with dementia, cover or remove them. You may want to consider placing curtains over mirrors so they are still easily-available when needed.
- Consider whether locks should remain on internal doors. If a person with dementia accidentally becomes locked in the room, this can quickly turn into a crisis.
- Keep in mind that shiny floors that reflect light may look wet and slippery to someone with dementia.
- Store medications in a locked cabinet to avoid an unintentional overdose. Keep in mind that an overdose can happen with a prescription medication or also with a common over-the-counter medication like Tylenol.
- Place house cleaning chemicals where they will not be accessed by someone with dementia. We often talk about teenagers eating Tidepods, but people with dementia have ingested them as well.
- Lower hot water temperatures to prevent scalding. The recommended maximum temperature is 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use nightlights in hallways and especially in bathrooms. Motion activated lights may also be useful.
- If your loved one has trouble finding the toilet at night, try to place the bed so the toilet is visible.
- Keep the counters clutter-free. Only leave out items that are used frequently.
- Do seasonal closet rotations so a person with dementia only has seasonally-appropriate clothing available.
- Consider placing a noise-maker (like some jinglebells) on selected doors so you know if they are opened or closed by the person with dementia.
- Keep devices like cell phones and remote controls in a consistent place.
- Think about installing deadbolts either high or low on external doors to discourage wandering.
- Frequently check for and dispose of expired and spoiled food. Label leftovers with the content and date. Place foods that need no prep in the front of the fridge for easy access.
- Install a high quality, sturdy grab bar or two in the shower or bath. Make sure the bar is a contrasting color to the surface to which it is attached.
- Put items like a hairbrush, toothbrush, and toothpaste in a visible place to encourage a person with dementia to be independent in self-care.
- Make sure chairs have sturdy armrests to provide support as individuals sit down and stand up.
- Get rid of your guns–or store them in a safe. Promise me you won’t ever assume that Grandpa won’t mess with his hunting gear.
- If someone struggles to use the stove safely, considering removing the knobs that control the stove. You can also unplug the oven for safety reasons.
- Lock up or limit access to equipment like snow blowers, lawn mowers, and weed wackers.
- Keep internal doors to frequently-used rooms like bathrooms open. Keep doors to less frequently-used rooms like spare bedrooms closed.
- Stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills may be stressful for someone with dementia. Keep these piles of “unfinished business” out of sight.
- After a person can no longer drive, keep car keys in a place where they are not accessible.
As I review these, I realize that many sound like safety tips…but creating a safe environment is key in assisting people with dementia in maintaining their independence. Individuals who occupy spaces that are safe are able to stay in those places longer–so safety promotes independence.
Sometimes it feels like we are treating Grandma like a child when we hide away cleaning supplies and unplug the stove. However, when this becomes necessary, these steps allow Grandma to continue to function without us hovering around her all the time.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to tell you about something related that makes my gerontologist heart happy. A professor of interior design at our university (who happens to occupy the office right next to mine and is absolutely delightful) understands how important the environment is to people with dementia. I have visited her class to teach about dementia and how affected individuals perceive their environment, and she has even created an assignment where students design a dementia-friendly space.
Thank you, Dr. Gowri Betrabet Gulwadi, for educating your interior design students on dementia and for your efforts in advocating for the creation of spaces where people with dementia can be successful and independent.