Caring for a Person with Alzheimer's Disease

Keeping the Person with AD Safe

Home safety

photo of carpeted floor and living room furniture

Over time, people with AD become less able to manage things around the house.

For example, they may forget:

  • To turn off the oven or the water
  • How to use the phone in an emergency
  • Which things around the house, such as certain medicines or household cleaners, are dangerous
  • Where things are in their own home

As a caregiver, you can do many things to make a house safer for people with AD.

Add the following to your home if you don't already have them in place:

  • Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in or near the kitchen and in all bedrooms
  • Emergency phone numbers (ambulance, poison control, doctors, hospital, etc.) and your home address near all telephones
  • Safety knobs on the stove and a shut-off switch
  • Childproof plugs for unused electrical outlets

Lock up or remove the following from your home:

  • All prescription and over-the-counter medicines
  • Alcohol
  • Cleaning products, dangerous chemicals such as paint thinner, matches, etc.
  • Poisonous plants—contact the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 or www.poison.org to find out which houseplants are poisonous
  • All guns and other weapons, scissors, and knives
  • Gasoline cans and other dangerous items in the garage

Do the following to keep the person with AD safe:

  • Simplify your home. Too much furniture can make it hard to move freely.
  • Get rid of clutter, such as piles of newspapers and magazines.
  • Have a sturdy handrail on your stairway. Put carpet on stairs or add safety grip strips.
  • Remove small throw rugs.
  • Put a gate across the stairs if the person has balance problems.
  • Make sure the person with AD has good floor traction for walking or pacing. Good traction lowers the chance that people will slip and fall. Three factors affect traction:
    1. The kind of floor surface. A smooth or waxed floor of tile, linoleum, or wood may be a problem for the person with AD. Think about how you might make the floor less slippery.
    2. Spills. Watch carefully for spills and clean them up right away.
    3. Shoes. Buy shoes and slippers with good traction. Look at the bottom of the shoe to check the type of material and tread.

Other home safety tips

Use signs

People with AD are able to read until the late stage of the disease. Use signs with simple written instructions to remind them of danger or show them where to go.

People with AD get more confused over time. They also may not see, smell, touch, hear, and/or taste things as they used to.

You can do things around the house to make life safer and easier for the person with AD:

Seeing

  • Make floors and walls different colors. This creates contrast and makes it easier for the person to see.
  • Remove curtains and rugs with busy patterns that may confuse the person.
  • Mark the edges of steps with brightly colored tape so people can see the steps as they go up or down stairs.
  • Use brightly colored signs or simple pictures to label the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen.
  • Be careful about small pets. The person with AD may not see the pet and trip over it.
  • Limit the size and number of mirrors in your home, and think about where to put them. Mirror images may confuse the person with AD.

Touching

  • Reset your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent burns.
  • Label hot-water faucets red and cold-water faucets blue or write the words "hot" and "cold" near them.
  • Put signs near the oven, toaster, iron, and other things that get hot. The sign could say, "Stop!" or "Don't Touch—Very Hot!" Be sure the sign is not so close that it could catch on fire.
  • Pad any sharp corners on your furniture, or replace or remove furniture with sharp corners.
  • Test water in the bathtub by touching it, or use a thermometer to see whether it's too hot. Water should not be above 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smelling

  • Use good smoke detectors. People with AD may not be able to smell smoke.
  • Check foods in your refrigerator often. Throw out any that have gone bad.

Home Safety

To learn more about how to make your home a safe place inside and out, go to www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers, and search for "home safety."

Tasting

  • Keep foods like salt, sugar, and spices away from the person if you see him or her using too much.
  • Put away or lock up things like toothpaste, lotions, shampoos, rubbing alcohol, soap, or perfume. They may look and smell like food to a person with AD.
  • Keep the poison control number (1-800-222-1222) by the phone.
  • Learn what to do if the person chokes on something. Check with your local Red Cross chapter about health or safety classes.

Hearing

  • Don't play the TV, CD player, or radio too loudly, and don't play them at the same time. Loud music or too many different sounds may be too much for the person with AD to handle.
  • Limit the number of people who visit at any one time. If there is a party, settle the person with AD in an area with fewer people.
  • Shut the windows if it's very noisy outside.
  • If the person wears a hearing aid, check the batteries and settings often.

Driving safety

profile photo of man driving carGood drivers are alert, think clearly, and make good decisions. When the person with AD is not able to do these things, he or she should stop driving. But, he or she may not want to stop or even think there is a problem. As the caregiver, you will need to talk with the person about why he or she needs to stop driving. Do this in a caring way. Understand how unhappy the person with AD may be that he or she has reached this new stage.

"Driving with my husband was scary. At red lights, he'd go into the middle of the intersection before stopping. I knew he needed to stop driving."

Be ready to find other ways that the person can travel on his or her own, for as long as possible. Your local Area Agency on Aging has information about transportation services in your area. These services may include free or low-cost buses, taxi service, or carpools for older people. Some churches and community groups have volunteers who take seniors wherever they want to go.

Here are some things you need to know about driving and memory loss:

  • A person with some memory loss may be able to drive safely sometimes. But, he or she may not be able to react quickly when faced with a surprise on the road. This can lead to dangerous results. If the person's reaction time slows, then you need to stop the person from driving.
  • The person may be able to drive short distances on local streets during the day, but may not be able to drive safely at night or on a freeway. If this is the case, then limit the times and places that the person can drive.
  • Some people with memory problems decide on their own not to drive. Others don't want to stop driving and may deny that they have a problem.
photo of dent in rear panel of gray car

Here are some signs that the person should stop driving:

  • New dents and scratches on the car
  • Taking a long time to do a simple errand and not being able to explain why. That may indicate that the person got lost.

Also, consider asking a friend or family member to follow the person. What he or she sees can give you a better sense of how well the person with AD is driving.

Please remember:

If the person with AD keeps driving when it is no longer safe, someone could get hurt or killed. You need to weigh the danger to other people if he or she does drive against the feelings of the person. Talk to the person's doctor about this problem.

Here are some ways to stop people with AD from driving:

  • Try talking about your concerns with the person.
  • Ask your doctor to tell him or her to stop driving. The doctor can write, "Do not drive" on a prescription pad and you can show this to the person. Some State Departments of Motor Vehicles require doctors to tell them if the person with AD should no longer drive.
  • Ask family or friends to drive the person.
  • Take him or her to get a driving test.
  • Hide the car keys, move the car, take out the distributor cap, or disconnect the battery if the person won't stop driving.
  • Find out about services that help people with disabilities get around their community. Look in the blue pages of your local telephone book, contact your local Area Agency on Aging office, or call the Community Transportation Association at 1-800-891-0590.
  • If the person won't stop driving, contact your State Department of Motor Vehicles. Ask about a medical review for a person who may not be able to drive safely. He or she may be asked to retake a driving test. In some cases, the person's license could be taken away.

Publication Date: July 2012
Page Last Updated: March 31, 2014