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50 Tips to Help Keep Dementia and Alzheimer’s Patients Safe in Your Home

How to make your house easier to navigate for loved ones at risk


spinner image house with a fully fenced yard and railings next to the front steps and porch so that is is safer for people with dementia if they got out of the house
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If your loved one has dementia or even mild cognitive impairment, you’ll need to make the conventional home modifications an older person needs — and a great many others.

Unintentional falls are the leading cause of injury or death for adults 65 and older, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The risks for those with dementia are even greater. A 2023 analysis in Alzheimer’s & Dementia that used data from the National Health and Aging Trends study, found that older people with dementia fell more often than their peers without dementia — about 15 percentage points more. Almost half of the adults who were studied fell within a 12-month period.

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People with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia see the world in an unfamiliar, often confusing way. Everyday observations can be frightening — an oil spot can be perceived as a hole, shadows may be seen as sinister beings, a stranger may appear in the mirror.

Change is daunting. So take small steps when adding safeguards to help a dementia patient.

A checklist can help you with dementia home care

Take a tour of your house, looking at it from your loved one’s compromised point of view. Dementia affects balance, cognitive abilities, coordination, depth perception, memory and strength. People with the disease have difficulty adapting to change, accurately interpreting the world around them, making sound choices and understanding instructions.

Even if your loved one is still managing well, prepare your house for the future, ideally before your loved one moves in. Little things — such as rearranging the furniture — can seem sudden and unsettling. Big changes such as redecorating can be alarming.

AARP’s printable prep list can help you evaluate your home.

Surprising situations, solutions to be aware of

Starting outside your home, walk around and scribble a to-do list. The items below are meant to help you think about potential dangers. Your loved one’s doctors and others can suggest additional safety measures.

Get expert advice to help protect dementia patients

Contact your local Area Agency on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association. They usually can recommend aging experts, geriatric care managers and occupational or physical therapists who will come to your home to give guidance.

Involve the medical team. Abilities vary greatly among people with dementia and can disappear suddenly. A medical professional or physical therapist should regularly reevaluate your loved one’s balance, coordination and strength.

Keep track of changes. At home, note your loved one’s ability to sit, stand and walk with or without assistance and add more protection as needed. Writing your observations in a notebook or on your smartphone will help you and the medical team monitor your loved one. Report changes to the doctors and ask them to evaluate medications, especially any that make your loved one dizzy. And be sure to schedule regular vision checks. The 2023 Alzheimer’s & Dementia study found poor vision contributed to higher fall rates.

Learn more online. AARP caregiving expert Amy Goyer reveals tips to help caregivers make it through the holidays in an hour-long conversation live at 6 p.m. ET, Nov. 16, 2023, and on demand afterward. AARP also has a private Family Caregivers Discussion Group on Facebook that you can join to reach out to others who have experience in their own lives.

Backyard and entry

1. Check walkways for cracked pavement and uneven bricks. Stepping stones are easy to trip on unless they’re flush with the ground. Get in the habit of removing hazards such as a garden hose, leaves, moss and snow and ice.

2. Improve lighting. Invest in well-placed, bright outdoor lights, and consider ones that are motion activated. Spotty lighting can create shadows, which can be perceived as deep holes or edges that must be stepped over or around. Some people with dementia see shadows as burglars, dangerous animals or demons.

3. Install fences. A fenced-in yard will allow your family member to go outside. Make sure gates lock.

4. Mark glass doors. Impaired vision and perception can make glass doors seem like open space. Put bright tape, removable decals and stickers on patio doors at your loved one’s eye level.

5. Remove clutter. Relocate balls, bikes, chalk, garden gnomes, jump ropes, lawn ornaments, tools and toys. A cluttered path bombards people who have dementia with too much information. They’re unable to weed out what’s irrelevant.

6. Replace thick welcome mats. Use thin, rubber-backed mats that have edges flush with the ground.

7. Secure firepits and grills. Keep the grill locked and covered when not in use.

8. Upgrade any steps. Mark edges of steps with neon, glow-in-the-dark tape and fix loose or uneven risers. Install nonskid rubber treads as well as handrails on both sides of the stairway to prevent slipping.

spinner image An in-ground swimming pool with a fence around it
Putting a locked fence around your pool can keep loved ones safe.
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Swimming pool

9. Fence a pool separately from the rest of the yard. And keep the gate locked.

10. Hook on a ladder. If you have an above-ground pool, a pull-up, locking ladder is a must to keep the curious from exploring unsupervised. Make sure the ladder is properly installed.

11. Install pool alarms. Use an alarm with an electronic sensor that will emit a loud, pulsating noise — outside and in the house — when anyone enters the water. Some can be turned off remotely through a smart home device such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant when you want a family afternoon by the water.

12. Use a pool cover. Some automatic, roll-up pool covers are made to withstand the weight of people and lock in place. Use the cover whenever someone capable of rescuing an adult is not monitoring the pool — even for a few minutes.

Easy Updates to Your Home Lighting

Inside the whole house

13. Add lighting. Strong, low-glare lighting and night lights will help your family member with visual perception and physical coordination. Arrange the lights to prevent or minimize shadows and use motion-activated lighting in hallways and bathrooms that will be visited in the middle of the night.

14. Cover electric outlets. Use child-proof plastic plug covers in every room.

15. Lighten the walls. People with dementia have an easier time deciphering a room when walls are painted a pale color that reflects light and contrasts with the floor. Busy wallpaper patterns can be confusing.

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16. Remove mirrors. Wall mirrors, especially large ones, can make a room more difficult for anyone with dementia or low vision to process. Those in cognitive decline will find it difficult to separate what’s real from the reflection, which can cause anxiety, confusion and fear.

17. Upgrade some light switches. Your home’s wall switches are likely stationary, but you can replace important ones with toggles that will illuminate when off. Some have a dusk-to-dawn sensor that saves on electricity.

AARP HomeFit Guide: The Bathroom

Bathrooms

18. Automate the faucets. Touchless faucets are motion activated and can prevent water damage and slippery floors in case your loved one forgets to turn off the tap.

19. Buy a bathing seat. Shower chairs can be freestanding or built into a shower. If you have a bathtub, transfer seats can be installed. These fit inside a tub and extend outside of it, allowing your loved one to sit and shift into the bath.

Legs with suction cups add stability to free-standing shower and bath seats.

A handheld shower attachment allows a bather to have more control over the water and helps rinse off soap better in hard-to-reach places.

20. Control water temperature. Dementia can dull sensitivity to heat. Install temperature-controlled water faucets or add anti-scald devices, also known as temperature-actuated flow reducers, to existing shower heads to prevent burns.

21. Install grab bars. An occupational, physical or certified aging-in-place therapist can suggest the optimal placement of grab bars. If your loved one’s doctor orders a consultation, see if health insurance will cover the cost. Some grab bars are multipurpose — serving as in–shower shelves, toilet paper holders and towel bars.

22. Make a remodeling accessible. If you are overhauling a bathroom for your family member, choose a frameless walk-in shower with a sloped floor instead of a step-over threshold.

23. Prevent electric shocks. Ensure that all power outlets in bathrooms have a ground-fault circuit interrupter or are on a GFCI circuit so they will shut off when wet.

24. Raise the toilet seats. If your loved one is having trouble getting on and off the toilet, a higher seat attached to your existing commode can help.

25. Remove locks from bathroom doors. That prevents your loved one from getting stuck inside or locking you out when you need to help.

26. Secure medicine and other items. Put medicines in a lockbox and block access to cleaning supplies and razors. Curling irons, hair dryers, irons, laundry soap pods, space heaters and vaporizers should be kept in closets or drawers with childproof locks. An electric shaver can be safer for a man who is in the habit of shaving daily.

27. Use large nonskid bath mats. Water can make tile or linoleum slippery. Rubber-backed bath mats can help prevent falls.

spinner image Woman working at home with an audio baby monitor on her desk
With an audio monitor, you can hear if your loved one is out of bed or calling for help.
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Bedrooms

28. Create calm with a clock. People with dementia can lose sense of time and day. A clock on a bedside table that shows the date and time can help soothe them even if they have trouble reading it.

29. Install a baby monitor. An audio monitor will let you hear if your loved one is out of bed or calling for help. Some monitors have video, but you should ask or otherwise assess how your loved one will react to the loss of privacy.

30. Lock cautiously. A lock on your bedroom door can keep personal and potentially dangerous items out of your loved one’s reach. Conversely, remove the lock from your loved one’s bedroom door to be certain that no one is locked in or out.

31. Make getting in and out of bed easy. Bed rails or a hospital bed as well as a mattress that sits about knee high can help your loved one crawl into bed at night and touch the floor safely in the morning.

32. Place a bell at bedside. A bell or even a horn can make it easier to signal for help.

33. Motion-activated night lights. When your loved one heads to the bathroom at 3 a.m., you’ll want the path illuminated so any potential tripping hazards can be seen. Battery-operated lights allow you to add a light anywhere you might need one.

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spinner image Shoes are scattered on a door mat
Your loved one might not be able to dodge items left in an entry or hallway.
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Hallways and stairs

34. Evaluate stairs. As with stairs outside, the CDC recommends installing railings on both sides of a staircase to help users with stability. If your stairs are carpeted, make sure it is not loose. If they are bare, nonskid adhesive mats may be a good idea.

35. Remove obstacles. Footstools, shoes and toys can become stumbling blocks.

36. Secure rugs. Carpets and smaller throw rugs with creases, curled edges or lumps are fall hazards. Use sturdy nonslip pads or double-sided tape to affix rugs to the floor. Add a rubber-backed rug in a single bright color in front of doors to help the person recognize that they are at the entrance. A dark rug can be seen as a hole in the floor.

spinner image Someone places their hand on an induction cooktop to show it doesn't get hot
An induction cooktop won’t burn a hand even as it heats a pot, though the hot pot itself can burn.
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Kitchen

37. Beware of scalding. As in the bathroom, consider temperature-controlled and motion-activated water faucets.

38. Check for spoiled food. Look in your pantry and refrigerator regularly, because people with dementia may eat moldy or raw food without realizing it.

39. Disconnect the garbage disposal. And keep a close eye on other appliances that can become dangerous, such as air fryers, blenders, coffee makers, electric grills, food processors, mixers, slow cookers, toaster ovens, toasters and waffle irons.

40. Lock some cabinets. Knives, nutcrackers, skewers and portable appliances not in use need to be stored in a cabinet with a childproof lock. Cleaning supplies and laundry detergent pods also should be far out of reach or locked away.

41. Mind the microwave. Get in the habit of unplugging the microwave when you aren’t there to supervise. Or look for a device that will interrupt power to it if smoke is detected.

42. Protect against burns. Knobs at the front of a stove keep older adults from burning their hands or dragging a sleeve across a hot element. But they are a hazard to a loved one who is losing the ability to understand that turning a handle can ignite a flame.

Inexpensive childproof knob covers are available as are devices that turn off a cooktop, oven or range after a set time if no movement in the kitchen is detected.

If you can afford the upgrade, induction cooktops have burners that don’t get hot, won’t turn on without a pan on top and stop heating when the cookware is removed. 

43. Put certain items within reach. Make food your loved one eats regularly easy to find. Climbing on chairs, counters and step stools is risky for people with dementia.

44. Stash other foods out of sight. When judgment becomes impaired, a jar of instant coffee crystals or maraschino cherries may seem like a good meal.

45. Take away pet food after feeding. Create a set mealtime for your pets and remove the bowls afterward so your loved one doesn’t snack on kibble.

spinner image An older woman reads in an armchair, in front of a bookshelf.
Bookshelves should be attached to walls so they won’t topple if a person tries to prevent a fall.
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Living room and home office

46. Anchor your bookcases. Make sure they are firmly attached to walls, because the shelves may be within reach when a person is falling.

47. Clear surfaces. A minimalist look works best for those with dementia. Stow your collectibles, which will also prevent damage to them. And put away your books, laptop, loose change, mugs and stacks of papers.

48. Consider adaptive furniture. Recliners with motorized lifts can help people who have trouble getting up from chairs and lower them to sit down gradually rather than plopping into a seat.

49. Embrace technology. You can buy bed pads, door sensors, floor mats and seat cushions wired to alert you when your loved one gets up. Motion-activated video cameras can monitor exterior doors. Other helpful gadgets: Adhesive patches and wearable monitors that will alert you if your loved one wanders too far.

50. Watch out for wheeled swivel chairs. If you have an office or den, these chairs can cause falls.

Designate a danger zone

People with dementia forget the purpose of things and how to use them. They may think wiper fluid is juice or be unaware that a barbecue grill is hot. Keep the numbers for your local poison control, burn center and urgent care in a central place as well as directions to the emergency room.

To prevent access to hazardous items, install combination or key locks on rooms and other storage places containing potentially dangerous items. Keep car keys out of reach and firearms in a gun safe or off the property.

A closet, garage, large cabinet, outdoor shed, recycled TV armoire or workroom can make a good storage space for items such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Blades, box cutters, scissors and sharp knives
  • Bleach and other cleaning products
  • Hand and power tools
  • Insecticide
  • Mothballs
  • Paint, stain and turpentine
  • Tobacco products, including chewing tobacco

This story, originally published in 2017, has been revamped to reflect new research, additional areas of concern in the home and best practices to lessen the dangers.

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