1. Book a needs assessment
Before you make any changes to your loved one’s home, the first thing you should do is book a needs assessment.
A needs assessment is intended to identify whether your loved one needs support and what type – for example, assistance from carers, arranging respite care, or making changes to their home, like installing stair lifts or handrails.
This can be really useful, as not only does a needs assessment examine the precise needs of your loved one and the respective difficulties they may face, but it’ll also be able to identify potential hazards.
Plus, a needs assessment can recommend local dementia experts, occupational or physical therapists, or ageing care experts who can come to your home and give you further advice.
2. Improve the lighting
Making sure their home is well-lit is one of the most important things you can do to keep people with dementia safe. To reduce the risk of falls and minimise confusion, lighting should be bright and even – and natural light should be used as much as possible.
To make the most of natural day night, curtains can be kept open all the way, and it can help to check that windows aren’t blocked by nets and blinds. If hedges and trees obstruct light, you might want to think about cutting them back, as this can make a big difference. And if your loved one has a favourite chair, you could try placing it by the window so they can sit in the light and watch what’s going on outside.
It’s also important to take another look at their living space when it’s dark. Patchy lighting can create shadows, which can look like dangerous holes to people with dementia. Similarly, shadowy corners can look like intruders or dangerous, frightening figures, so high-wattage light bulbs can help to eliminate shadows.
You might want to also consider automatic light sensors, which come on automatically when a person moves past them. This can be really useful if your loved one is prone to getting up and wandering during the night.
Good lighting is especially important on both the stairs and in the toilet, and light switches should always be within easy reach and visible. You could always use coloured tape around the switch to make them more obviously visible.
3. Supervise kitchen activities
The kitchen can be a dangerous place for people with dementia, and it’s not uncommon for people to forget about the food they’re cooking on the stove or in the oven. This isn’t only a serious fire risk, but it can also mean your loved one misses out on meals.
Try to make sure all cooking is supervised as best you can – and if your loved one needs to be left unattended for a while, unplug the oven and stove. Microwaves are the best option for cooking, as they’re easiest for people with dementia to work, and they shut off automatically.
If your loved one has mild dementia and is still capable of preparing meals, snacks, and hot drinks for themselves, there are many ways you can make the kitchen safer and easier to navigate, thereby allowing them to feel independent for longer.
For example, you could…
- Keep mugs, teabags, and other regularly used items on the counter.
- Place stickers on cupboard doors stating what’s inside. For example, bread, snacks, teas, etc.
- Check items in the fridge regularly and throw away food that’s out of date.
- Keep toxic cleaning products hidden away, perhaps in a locked cupboard.
- Consider buying dementia living aids like easy can openers, adaptive chopping boards, etc.
4. Make sure the flooring is safe
Adapting your flooring isn’t always the easiest or cheapest household change to make, but making sure your floors are safe for your loved one to walk around is really important.
Shiny or reflective flooring should be avoided, as people with dementia may believe they’re wet and slippery, and worry about walking over it.
If you have reflective or shiny flooring, the easiest thing to do might be to buy a large rug to place over it. However, it’s essential to make sure the edges are stuck down, so your loved one doesn’t trip, and the rug should cover as much of the floor as possible, so your loved one doesn’t think it’s an object they need to step over. Trailing wires should also be removed.
Whether your flooring is a carpet, rug, or hard floor, it should ideally be matte, and in a plain colour, not patterned – as this can look and feel much safer. It’s a good idea to have the colour of the floor contrast with the colour of your walls, and if possible, avoid blue or green flooring. If it’s blue, your loved one may think it’s water, and if it’s green, they may believe it’s grass.
5. Inspect the bathroom
Because many people with dementia have problems with how they see and perceive objects, this often causes confusion in the bathroom. But, there are many small steps you can take to make sure your bathroom remains a safe space for your loved one.
For example, you could…
- Remove locks from bathroom doors to stop your loved one from getting locked in.
- Use large non-skid bath mats to stop the floor from becoming slippery.
- Instal grab rails around toilets, baths, and showers (a needs assessment can help with this).
- Install temperature-controlled taps to avoid scalding. These often also prevent flooding, releasing the water down the plughole if it gets too deep.
- Fit a brightly coloured toilet seat that’s a different colour from the toilet.
- Remove bath mats and toilet mats to stop your loved one from slipping on them.
- Buy bright-coloured towels so they’re visible on the towel rail.
- Keep medicines, razors, and cleaning supplies in a locked cabinet.
6. Keep bedrooms cosy and uncluttered
Bedrooms should be safe, cosy spaces where your loved one is able to relax, and there are lots of small things you can do to help your loved one feel comfortable and secure.
One of the most useful things you can do is to make sure there’s no clutter around the bed, so your loved one is able to get in and out of bed easily.
If they’re in the habit of getting up during the night, you might want to buy a touch-operated bedside light, or install movement sensors to alert you or whoever is caring for them if they get up. An easy-to-read clock is a good idea too, as this can help your loved one distinguish whether it’s day or night.
Choosing weather-appropriate bedding is also important, as when people are too hot or too cold, they’re more likely to be restless. And while the bedroom should be light and bright during the day, it should be dark at night, as this can help with sleep. You might want to consider fitting blackout blinds or heavy curtains if the bedroom isn’t dark enough.
Another thing that can be helpful if your loved one has incontinence issues is fitting a waterproof mattress, and/or providing incontinence pads or pants. And unless your loved one is still capable of dressing themselves easily, you might want to lay out their clothes the night before, to remove the decision-making aspect of dressing, while still allowing them to feel independent.
7. Think about outside space
Making sure the space outside your loved one’s home is safe, is just as important as safeguarding the inside of their home. People with dementia often struggle to recognise their own home, no matter how long they’ve lived there, it’s important to avoid making obvious changes outside, like changing the colour of the front door.
Large door numbers can help, and you might want to keep some personal decorations outside to help your loved one remember it’s their home – for example, if they enjoy gardening, buy some colourful pots while you’re with them, and place them outside your front door. If they like birds, you could place some bird ornaments in the front garden to jog their memory.
If your loved one is prone to falls and you have steps leading up to your front door, consider installing handrails, or converting the steps into a ramp.
Getting some fresh air and taking time to relax outside is beneficial for everyone, and things are no different for people with dementia. So, try to make your garden or outside space as attractive and accessible as possible: keep lighting bright (sensor lighting is helpful here), and make sure the ground is flat and even, to help prevent falls.
If your loved one always enjoyed gardening, you might want to look into raised flower beds, as these help people with mobility issues maintain their gardens. Sheltered, cosy seating areas can help people stay outside for longer too, and things like bird feeders will attract wildlife into the garden, which can keep your loved one interested and engaged while enjoying the fresh air.