Right now, roughly 5.8 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s impacts a person’s memory and can adversely shape daily activities, even leading to an increased chance of injury during everyday life. Many who suffer from memory loss may experience severe unease, anxiety and even distress over certain elements of their living space. They may also be extremely sensitive to light and sound. The world is a very frightening place to navigate for a person with Alzheimer’s. Luckily, there are many things that can help a person with Alzheimer’s to be more comfortable in their space. To help, we’ve compiled seven essential tips which can reduce the risk of injury for Alzheimer patients.
1. Clear the Hallway
Often, those with Alzheimer’s can have a difficult time recognizing changes to an area. Loose rug edges, discarded clothes, or electrical cords stretched across the floor can cause major problems. For most, stepping over the edge, clothing or cord would be no issue, but those with Alzheimer’s may not see or register the obstacle, resulting in a potential trip or fall. Removing obstacles in the walkways is a good way to reduce risk. This goes for outside as well. Reduce fall risk by removing leaves, trash or any other obstacles, such as snow or rocks, which would make the walking surface uneven or a tripping hazard.
2. Prep the Bedside
An issue that many with Alzheimer’s struggle with is being confused at night. Perhaps they can’t fall asleep, or they do fall asleep and then wake up for whatever reason. Either way, when they see the lights off beyond their room, they may worry about making the journey to find whatever they’re looking for to calm their unease. Prevent the feelings of unease and the need to get up out of bed by placing important things, such as a light, eyeglasses, water, tissues and their phone, on a night table. Also, consider installing a night light so that when they first wake up they can see where their objects are immediately. Another way to stay prepared for eventualities is to keep a bedside commode within a short distance from the bed.
3. Suggest Safe Shoes
Shoes present a difficult dilemma to many Alzheimer’s patients. Often, they can struggle to do up the laces, or even to put the shoes on tight enough that they don’t slip off. Loose shoes may cause a person to trip or fall. Instead, consider shoes with Velcro closings that fit snugly to the foot. There are also certain technological designs which can go in the foot bed of a shoe which can track the movements of a person with Alzheimer’s in case they are out and about and happen to get lost. Whether considering Velcro or more advanced measures, remember that safe shoes can really help prevent risk of injury.
4. Decrease the Noise Level
Many with Alzheimer’s may have an increased sensitivity to noise. As such, loud noises can produce anxiety or nervousness in a person with Alzheimer’s as they find it overwhelming. An increased state of anxiety can lead to unsteadiness as well as a changed demeanor. Also, any loud noises which happen suddenly, such as from a TV, may startle a person with Alzheimer’s — not something that is good for them, especially when walking. Instead, decrease noise levels by being mindful of radio, music, TV, computer sounds and any other noise-creating devices. Even something as simple as changing the ringtone on a cellphone can be helpful in decreasing the noise that may startle the person with Alzheimer’s.
5. Light Up Their Life
Often, those with Alzheimer’s may be visually impaired. This can cause them to have misperceptions, particularly of areas which are not well lit. This could be shadowy spaces such as corners, areas under overhangs, stairs, closets, etc. Anything the person “sees” in the shadows may be misinterpreted as something much scarier than it is. This can lead to anxiety and further unease, which is the opposite of a pleasing environment for them. The answer is to reduce dark areas as much as possible by providing lots of light. Whether it means buying more lighting fixtures or reducing shadowy areas, lighting up their living areas is a good way to reduce risk of injury.
6. Create an Information Station
For those with Alzheimer’s, experiencing memory loss can often feel like forgetting something that is just on the tip of the tongue. Many people may look around for clues as to what they may have forgotten, trying to piece together something they may have missed. To help this unease, creating an information hub can be extremely beneficial. Gather important information such as their full name, family members, doctor name, everyone’s phone numbers and all important dates together in one place such as on a bulletin board or a dry erase board. New things can be added, but it is important for the board to stay where it is, as it can act as a launching place for those seeking information.
7. Keep Help Nearby
It is nearly impossible for someone to be around the person struggling with Alzheimer’s all the time. There may be times when they are alone. If an injury does occur during those times, it is extremely important that help has been kept nearby. This can include many different forms of help. For example, some favor remote care technology, such as a fall alert bracelet, button-push emergency necklace or auto detector, all of which can alert medical emergency staff in the case of a fall or injury. Other help to keep nearby may include helpful devices such as walking aids and bathroom safety aids which can help those with Alzheimer’s navigate their spaces, providing support. If a fall does occur, it is also good to have legal help on hand as well. Having dedicated elder law professionals who can help navigate the legalities of a fall may help the patient with Alzheimers seek damages and find their best course forward.
Elizabeth S. Coyle is the current Director of Client Services for JacksonWhite Attorneys at Law based in Mesa, Arizona. She serves as a paralegal for the Family Law Department of the firm.