If your loved one is aging in place and has a chronic illness, mobility or functional issues, or has been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, here are some things you can do to increase their safety at home. Some of the suggestions may be done immediately, or later when needed.
Activate neighborhood watch
Inform neighbors of your loved one's condition. Ask neighbors to inform you if they notice anything unusual or concerning, especially if your loved one is wandering outside. Unusual occurrences are breaks from one's normal behavior patterns, routines, or activities. For example, if your loved one enjoys a cup of tea on the porch in the afternoon but a neighbor notices that they have been sitting there for much longer than usual, encourage your neighbor to check on them and notify you.
Nanny cams or other video monitors
These may give you peace of mind by allowing you to “check in” during your work day or any other time you are away. The ability to access a live monitor feed and observe that your loved one is safe while you are at work or away can decrease your stress level - and theirs. This is especially valuable when they are home alone.
Baby monitors can be helpful at night to alert you to wandering or a call for help. They can also be used if your loved one is sitting on the porch, or if you are outside when they are taking a midday nap.
Passive monitoring systems
Passive monitoring means there is no voice or video, which your loved one may find frightening or invasive and cause privacy concerns. Passive monitoring uses movement to detect, record, and report opening/closing of doors (including the refrigerator!), number of bathroom visits, bathroom overstays, and nighttime activity, as well as lack of movement that could be indicative a fall, illness or altered mental status, or other inability to move. Passive monitoring can also detect ambient temperature, indicating rises or drops in temperature and warning if the environment may be too warm or too cold.
Also called med-minders, pill planners, or pill boxes. These assist your loved one to take their medications properly, and give you insight as to whether they took their medications or missed taking them.
There are also electronic medication planners that will alert your loved one when it's time to take their medications and release them at that time, as well they can help prevent doubling up on medications when your loved one cannot remember if they already took them. They also track missed doses (doses that were not retrieved from the dispenser at the alarm).
Doors and locks
Doors leading outside. Install deadbolts that lock with a key from the inside. You can lock the door to prevent your loved one from leaving the home. Hide a key close by in case of an emergency.
Door knob slip covers and brackets. Designed for both round and handle-style door knobs, these come in a variety of configurations (more than pictured here). They are simple for you to work to gain access, but are tricky enough to keep your loved one from accessing a given room or going outside.
Bathroom and bedroom door handles. Flip existing door handles or install new door handles to prevent your loved one from locking themselves in and locking you out. You can flip existing handles, putting the locking device on the outside of the door instead of inside the room, or replace the door handle altogether with a non-locking set (such as those used for closet doors).
Bathroom and bedroom doors. If space allows, rehang the door so it opens outward instead of into the room. If your loved one falls near or against the door, and the door opens into the room, you will not be able to push the door open to gain access to them. Likewise, with a door that opens outward, they may be able to reach the handle to let themselves out (giving them a better chance of crawling for help or being heard if they yell).
Install child proof locks in areas of concern. Many people with dementia are curious and may “play” with products that could harm them, much like toddlers do. Child proof locks work just as well for elderly as they do for little ones.
Stop signs. Put a large, red “STOP” sign on doors leading outside or on doors to rooms that may be unsafe for them (office with electronic equipment, a teenager’s room).
Kitchen and bathroom safety
Put away appliances. Appliances with exposed coils or hot surfaces (toasters, toaster ovens, hot plates, curling irons) should be put away to eliminate the potential for burns or fires. Likewise, pull knobs off stoves, ovens, washers, and dryers to prevent your loved one from turning them on.
Secure knives and other sharp utensils. Use childproof locks for drawers and cabinets that contain knives and other sharp objects, or store them somewhere they can't be reached by your loved one. Do the same with chemicals.
Regulate hot water temperature. Adjust your hot water heater to a temperature that will prevent accidental burns or scalding (no more than 120-degrees F, 49-degrees C).
Put away keys for their safety and yours, especially car keys! Find a convenient location and secure it with child-proof lock, such as the inside of a cabinet door, or in a location they cannot reach.
Schedule phone calls
For loved ones who live alone or who are alone during the workday, schedule a morning call to check that they got up and moving safely, as well as an evening call for another safety check. A 2-minute call will be enjoyed and anticipated by your loved one, and because they receive daily or twice daily calls, the calls can be short and not time consuming for you.