Q. Can you give me some more tips about making our house more friendly for my husband with dementia?
— Louise in La Crescenta
(Continued from July 17) ?
As dementia progresses, glare and bright light may begin to bother him. If it does, remove or cover mirrors and glass tabletops. Block bright sunlight by covering windows with blinds, shades or sheer draperies.
Changes in levels of light can be disorienting to a person with dementia. Create an even level of lighting by adding extra lighting in entries, outside landings, areas between rooms, stairways and bathrooms.
Most accidents in the home occur during daily activities such as eating, bathing and using the bathroom. Take special precautions at these times. Watch the temperature of water and food because he may not know the difference between hot and cold. Turn down the heat setting on your water heater. Supervise him while he is taking medications.
Enroll him in MedicAlert + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return, the Alzheimer's Association's 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with Alzheimer or related dementia conditions. As part of the service, you will have a Safe Return bracelet, which identifies you as a caregiver for someone with dementia. If you have a medical emergency while you are away from home, the paramedics will know that your husband is at home and needs care.
Another important step would be to make sure you are sure your home supports his changing needs. You may need to adapt your usual schedule to engage him in activity. Keeping to a slow-paced schedule is important because he will be more comfortable with familiarity. Try to concentrate on enjoying the activity, rather than the result. Break the activity into small steps. For instance, if he enjoyed cooking in the past, have him help you cook now. You could set out the ingredients, as if they do on a cooking show, and ask him to add each one to the bowl and stir. Perhaps he could match socks when you are folding laundry. If he is frustrated, change the activity. He will forget the frustration when he is distracted.
Help him reminisce. In key locations, place scrapbooks, photo albums or old magazines and encourage conversation about them. Play music to prompt dancing, clapping or other kinds of exercise. Old songs or hymns are the best, even someone in the advanced stages will often sing along. Keep noise level low — loud, distracting sounds could overwhelm him. Enjoy supervised outdoor activities like gardening or walking.
Keep a list of emergency phone numbers and addresses for Safe Return, local police and fire departments, hospitals and poison control help lines, as well as neighbors and family members in a central location.
Be sure your fire extinguishers and smoke alarms are all working.
This is a lot of information and still there are areas I have not covered. You can always call me directly with specific questions or contact the Alzheimer's Assn. for more resources.
NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, 790-0123, ext. 225.