If you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another dementia, or just have some mild memory loss, simple changes around the house can make your life safer and easier. This was the topic of a talk given recently by Jack Partington and Heather Black, in-house physical and speech therapists at Freedom Square, a Brookdale Senior Living community here in Florida.
Home modifications to prevent falls should be considered no matter the extent of your memory loss, said Jack and Heather in a conversation after their presentation. [Balance problems have been linked with cognitive decline, but balance generally worsens with age anyway.] Their list of possible home modifications is based on recommendations from the U.S. National Institutes of Health:
- Remove scatter rugs, throw rugs and foam pads
- Use textured strips or nonskid wax on any hardwood floors to prevent slipping
- Use night lights
- Make sure light switches are within easy reach of the bed
- Make sure the phone is within easy reach of the bed
- Anticipate reasons you might want to get out of bed in the night, and try to meet those needs before you go to sleep (hunger, thirst, pain, going to the bathroom, etc.)
- Place nonskid adhesive strips, decals or mats in the tub and shower. If the bathroom is uncarpeted, consider placing these strips next to the tub, toilet and sink.
- Use an extended toilet seat with handrails, or install grab bars beside the toilet
- Install grab bars in the tub/shower. A grab bar in contrasting color to the wall is easier to see.
- Use plastic shower stools and a hand-held showerhead to make bathing easier
- Clear all walk areas of clutter, including electrical cords
- Make sure all stairs have handrails on both sides, and that those handrails are tightly fastened
- Make sure light switches are within reach at both the top and the bottom of the stairs.
- Keep things you use often within easy reach.
- Use a reach stick to grab things that are out of reach. Avoid climbing on chairs or stools.
Jack and Heather had additional home safety and convenience ideas for people with mild memory loss:
- In your shower, tub and sinks, use a single faucet that mixes hot and cold water to avoid burns
- Adjust the water heater to 120 degrees to avoid burns
- Throw away outdated medications
- Use small electrical appliances (razors, hairdryers) outside the bathroom to avoid water contact
- Label everything – drawers, cabinets, cleaning fluids, etc.
- Use appointment books and calendars to keep track of appointments and things to do
- Develop step-by-step instructions on how to complete tasks (making breakfast, taking meds, getting dressed to go out, etc.)
- Create a memory journal containing these instructions, along with schedules and reminders. Read this journal every morning.
- Develop a memory wallet for any information you want to have with you at all times. This may be a miniature version of the memory journal, and might consist of a small card or cards that can fit in your wallet.
- Make up larger versions of these instructions and post on the wall where needed (place instructions about pulling together an outfit near your closet, for example).
If you’re unsure what changes would make your home safer and more functional, a visit from a physical or occupational therapist may help, said Jack and Heather. In the U.S., Medicare will pay for this visit if a doctor orders it. The therapist can review your medical history, evaluate your balance and muscle strength, and follow the sequence or flow of your usual activities to make recommendations for home modifications and any therapy.