The words “house” and “home” aren’t the same. For most people, the word “house” produces a mental image of a building. In contrast, the word “home” stimulates an array of complex feelings.
“Home” may bring back memories of a mother’s cooking, the view from a childhood treehouse, the sound of children playing, and the feel of a loved one’s kiss. For nearly everyone, a home is more than four walls and a roof. Home is memory, personal history, and a bountiful source of comfort.
A dementia-friendly home is one that provides both emotional and physical comfort and safety. Family photographs, the worn but still comfortable chair, an ancient radio, and a hugely ugly coffee mug – are all remnants of a life-well lived. While you may consider them clutter, your loved one finds enjoyment and pleasure in their presence. The chair may remind him or her of having once read bedtime stories to you and your siblings. The radio might encourage conversation about the days when people listened to baseball games. And what does the hugely ugly coffee mug contribute to a dementia-friendly home? It doesn’t matter, the mug isn’t yours.
Creating a physically safe environment for your loved one requires sensitivity, practicality, and acknowledgment of his or her capabilities. It is more likely your loved one will accept the changes to his or her personal space if you describe the installation of bathroom handrails as an “update” and the new automatic tea kettle as a “gift.”
As a first step, assess your loved one’s home for areas and objects of potential danger. Examples of simple changes include installing automatic shut-off timers on appliances such as the toaster oven. Replace the overhead microwave oven with a countertop model. Remove tripping hazards and improve household lighting. Adjust the thermostat on the hot water heater to a lower temperature. Install handrails in the bathroom. Use safety locks on the cabinets that contain toxic cleaning supplies. Remove locks to prevent your loved one from becoming entrapped in the bathroom or bedroom.
Another approach to creating a dementia-safe home is to learn about the new assistive technologies that help disabled people live at home for as long as is possible. Smartphone apps, as well as television and other kinds of monitoring systems, can let you know if your loved one is as active as expected, has left a certain area, or if an appliance has not been turned on or off. There are smartphone apps that can remind your loved one to take his or her medication, give verbal instructions on how to use an appliance, find misplaced items, as well as keep track of day and time.
Good intentions aside, creating a dementia-friendly home for your loved one takes insight and experience. Your internet browser and the keywords -- home, safety, assessment, and dementia--will link you to many excellent online resources.
Another option is to have an eldercare home safety consultant inspect your loved one’s home. Taking into consideration your loved one’s capabilities, he or she will inform you of needed improvements. The safety consultant can also suggest where to buy home-safety equipment and, if need be, people to install such things as bathroom handrails. Use your internet browser and the keywords--eldercare home safety consultant--plus the location where your loved one life to find locally-conveniently home safety services.
A dementia-friendly home is one that respects your loved one’s dignity, while at the same time, and an illusion of independence.
Janet Yagoda Shagam, Ph.D., is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.
The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts- that have been provided to us with permission, or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice, please consult your doctor. www.DementiaSociety.org