There are more than 5 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s disease. An estimated 800,0001 of those live alone. A person with Alzheimer’s who lives alone is at increased risk of:
- wandering away from home
- accidental death
- untreated medical conditions
- poor hygiene
- isolation and loneliness.
If you’ve ever tried to try convince someone with Alzheimer’s or other dementia to move from their home, you know it's difficult. A common question that often arises is, “Would it be safe to have my parent remain in their home, at least for a while?”
The answer? It depends.
It depends on:
- The stage of the disease, and
- Safety precautions in the home
Because abilities decrease over time, so does the ability to live alone. This is where knowledge of risks can help us understand when they’ve become too great. What steps can we take to help a loved one stay safely at home for a longer time
Let’s look at each of the above safety issues for ideas.
When looking at the home environment to eliminate fall risks, look for potential tripping hazards, such as area rugs, clutter on the floor, electrical cords, etc. Introduce assistive devices, such as a cane, walker or wheelchair, where needed; ensure walkways are well lit; install grab bars in the bathroom and safety handrails on stairways. Physical and occupational therapists are available to consult on safety in the home, as well as when introducing assistive devices. Ask your parent’s primary care physician for a referral for a home safety evaluation.
Are you concerned about a parent continuing to drive? Driving evaluations are one way to resolve that question. Driving evaluations are conducted at local hospitals, the DMV, rehabilitation hospitals, and some private occupational practices. The American Occupational Therapy Association has a good resource for finding a driving evaluation specialist.
Because a person with Alzheimer’s can become disoriented or confused, and wander at any stage of the disease, consider one of the following products to help locate them in the event they wander:
- GPS devices such as shoes, watches, necklaces and ankle bracelets
- Website location-based mapping services
- ID jewelry
Medication Management and Untreated Medical Conditions
It is possible early in the disease to manage medications with just a weekly pillbox that a family member fills and checks regularly. Another method often employed is daily calls with medication reminders. Eventually, it will be necessary for medications to be administered directly by a family member or other caregiver. Your parent’s health, too, needs to be monitored, as they are at risk of not following up with physicians, or being unaware of new symptoms needing medical attention.
This issue too can be managed from a home setting, but will take the support of others to keep your loved one socially engaged. Community resources for socialization include churches, community centers, senior centers and adult day centers. Depending on the stage of the disease, consider a local gym, fitness center or walking club membership.
Personal hygiene (bathing, dressing, foot care for diabetics, dental care), may require the support of family or a caregiver. Household tasks include cooking and food preparation, shopping, housekeeping and pet care. There are ways to manage this care—through the services of a Geriatric Care Manager or by building a team of family and friends to assist. If friends and family are the care team, be sure to monitor their ongoing ability to provide care.
Additional Resources to Help a Loved One at Home
Here are some additional online resources:
It Does Take a Village
Whether a loved one lives alone at home, at home with a caregiver, or in a care setting with assistance, it will always take the ongoing monitoring by family or caregivers to address new concerns. When in doubt about what steps to take, enlist the services of a professional in the field to help you sort out your options. Ultimately, your loved one’s well-being is most important.
2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures
Kathleen S. Allen, LCSW, LICSW, C-ASWCM
Eldercare Consultant/Geriatric Care Manager
Senior Care Management Services, LLC
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