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Safety issues

Dealing with practical issues

"I have left the electric heating plates on the cooker switched on several times and am worried about causing a fire or people hurting themselves. Next week, I’m getting a new cooker which automatically switches off when it is not being used and glows red when it’s on." (Thomas)

"Maureen finally agreed to tell our next-door neighbour that she had dementia. That way, Edith (our neighbour) can also keep an eye on her. I would never have gone behind her back and told Edith myself. That would have been betraying Maureen’s trust in me." (Sydney)

In the early stage of dementia, people may notice that problems with memory, concentration and attention lead to little mistakes e.g. leaving the oven switched on or the tap running, putting shampoo in the fridge, forgetting to keep appointments, to lock the door of the house and to open mail etc. Physical problems such as poor eyesight, poor balance and poor hearing can make the situation even worse. It is therefore important to try to think about the kinds of problems that could eventually arise and to take the necessary precautions to minimise the consequences. It would be unrealistic to try to rule out the risk of accident completely as this would severely limit the freedom of the person with dementia and eventually necessitate twenty-four hour surveillance. It is therefore best to try to balance independence and freedom against safety.

If travelling abroad, it is advisable to take out a travel insurance. Some companies may impose restrictions or increase the excess (the amount payable by the client in the event of a claim). It is therefore a good idea to shop around.

Being attentive to potential safety risks and trying to find a solution can be a challenge but one which will hopefully lead to prolonged independence, a feeling of security and less stress for all concerned. Below, you will find a few useful tips.

Create a safe environment

  • Make sure that potentially dangerous objects are out of easy reach (e.g. bleach, chip pans, knives, weapons, tablets etc.)
  • Use a compliance pack for medication (to avoid forgetting or taking tablets twice)
  • Avoid unnecessary clutter around the home
  • Make sure that furniture and fittings are stable and do not have sharp edges
  • Fit reflector tape on the edges of furniture
  • Fit grip rails (especially on stairs) to reduce the risk of falls and facilitate mobility
  • Avoid mats on the floor and polished floors (to lessen the likelihood of falling)
  • Leave a light on at night between the bedroom and the bathroom
  • Make sure that radiators are firmly fixed
  • Put safety guards around fires
  • Cover hot pipes to prevent burning
  • Check that electrical appliances are safe
  • Get rid of trailing wires (shorten them if necessary)
  • Remove electrical appliances from the bathroom
  • Look into the possibility of obtaining electrical or mechanical devices to prevent water overflow, leaving the gas on and the consequences of leaving the oven or other household appliances switched on
  • Fit a smoke alarm
  • Put a list of emergency or useful telephone numbers (e.g. doctor, relative or friend, fire brigade, Alzheimer association etc.) in an obvious place

Try not to make too many changes though or your home will become an unfamiliar place.

Change habits

Smoking can be a fire hazard for people with dementia. They may forget that they are holding a cigarette and burn themselves or leave it lit and unattended thereby running the risk of causing a fire. Smoking alone, particularly in bed, is the biggest risk. If possible, it is best to give up smoking or failing this only to smoke when in company. If a person with dementia continues smoking, there are a few useful precautions to take depending on your resources, e.g. put large ashtrays everywhere, replace wastepaper baskets with metal bins, buy flame resistant clothes and furniture, fit smoke alarms and keep matches out of reach.

Alcoholic drinks may increase confusion in the person with dementia. Although the occasional social drink should not cause particular concern, it is best to ask your doctor’s advice particularly if the person with dementia is taking medication. Even if the doctor agrees to the person having an occasional drink, drinking may still be problematic as the person with dementia may forget that they have already had a few drinks.

For the person with dementia

  • Try to see mistakes as challenges rather than failures.
  • Have an assessment done to see if you can still do DIY.
  • Identifying them early on in the disease and finding ways to protect yourself will help you to maintain your independence longer.
  • Plan for the future and try to envisage possible difficulties which may arise.
  • As unscrupulous people may try to take advantage of you, avoid making hasty decisions e.g. about offers of services or goods.
  • If you go out alone, carry in your wallet or purse the address and telephone number of a relative or friend in case of emergency e.g. if you are out walking and lose your way.
  • Consider carrying a card explaining that you have dementia.
  • Carry the card if you want to.
  • If you decide to carry the card, only show it to people when you want to.
  • Don’t give the card to other people to show on your behalf.

For the carer

  • Try to persuade the person with dementia to let you inform close neighbours about the diagnosis. Neighbours can be very helpful especially if the person with dementia gets lost.
  • Make sure that the person with dementia has your address and telephone number in case of emergency. Please see the sample card above.
  • If the person with dementia falls and it seems to be quite serious, don’t try to move them or give them anything to drink. They might need an anaesthetic later. Keep them warm and call for an ambulance.
  • If the person with dementia burns or scalds themselves pour cold water over the affected area for at least ten minutes to reduce the heat on the skin and lessen the pain. Remove anything tight such as rings, watches or jewellery. Don’t apply ointment, but cover the wound with a piece of non-fluffy material. Then contact your doctor or take the person to a hospital.
  • Run the bath for the person with dementia (to avoid the risk of them burning themselves).
  • Set the shower (especially if in an unfamiliar place such as a hotel) .
  • When the weather starts to get cold, make sure that the person with dementia is warm at home as they might not realise that they are cold. Also, make sure that they are warm and dry if they go outside as they do not always dress appropriately for the weather

 

 
 

Last Updated: Friday 11 September 2009

 

 
 

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