This Caring Home
A dementia-friendly home can ease
safety challenges and help make
caregiving less stressful and more
rewarding. In this article, we’ll explore key
design elements and technologies that can
help enhance home safety and quality of life
— for you and the person you care for.
Keys to Success
Accepting change can be challenging
to anyone, but especially for people with
dementia. To help reduce challenging
behaviors when making changes, keep in
Cooking and Household Safety
- Each person and environment is
unique; no one solution will work in
- The person’s needs change over
time — what works today may not
- Whenever you make a change,
observe how the person responds and
switch course if needed.
The use of cooking appliances when the
person’s memory or judgment is impaired is a
top home-safety concern. There are a few ways
to enhance safety, depending on remaining
abilities. In the early stages, large reminder
signs and cooking timers with a loud, long
ring may help remind the person that food is
cooking on the stove. Devices can be installed
on electric stoves that turn the stove off after a
set period of time if the person forgets. Toaster
ovens are available that automatically turn off
after a set amount of time (usually 30 minutes)
and some electric teakettles automatically
turn off after the water boils. Microwaves are
available with one button cooking.
Keep in mind that not everyone will be able
to use a new appliance or learn a new way of
cooking, no matter how minor. Regardless
of strategy, you’ll need to frequently assess
the person’s cooking skills and judgment. For
example, do they still know which cookware is
safe to use, or, do they put plastic containers on
burners or metal containers in the microwave?
It is not always clear if a person can safely
engage in an activity. Balancing risk and
freedom is an ongoing challenge. At some
point, you may need to make certain appliances
or household items like knives or cleaning
supplies off limits. Keep in mind that people
react very differently when access is denied.
Some may simply walk away if they can no
longer turn the stove on (after removal of the
knobs) or open a newly locked cabinet door.
But others may become so frustrated that they
attempt to remove the lock or, worse yet, the
door. Here are a few things to do for a more
- Don’t leave the person alone until you
know they are comfortable with the
- Make sure to have snacks available and alternative
activities for the person to engage
in. This redirects the person’s attention and
provides structure in the person’s day, essential
- Instead of locking a cabinet, try placing the
item out of view in the same room (like a
teakettle on an upper shelf in the back) or
move it to another room. However, he or
she may become upset when they notice
the item missing, so have a creative strategy
in place if needed.
- If you need to lock a cabinet, keep some
cupboards/drawers unlocked with safe
items for the person to rummage through.
Persons with dementia fall up to three times more often than individuals without cognitive
impairments. In addition to age-related vision
and mobility changes, dementia brings its own
unique set of challenges that increase fall risk.
For example, it is not uncommon for a person
to forget they can no longer walk safely and
get out of a bed or a chair by themselves, or
To help reduce falls, here are five things to
- Boost the lighting, especially at night.
Use easy-on-the-eyes blue or green LED
nightlights or motion-activated nightlights.
- Use bright colors to overcome dementiarelated
problems with depth perception.
For example, paint a two inch strip of
bright paint on step edges or place a rose
colored towel on a white bath chair.
- Be bathing safe. Use a bath mat inside the
tub and a bath chair; a swiveling, sliding
seat to ease transfers can be helpful if the
person can no longer slide across the chair.
Install grab bars into the walls (no suction
cup grab bars, as they can fall off). Use low
pile floor mats with non-skid backing (no
rugs that can “bunch up”).
- Use motion detectors or chair, bed, or floor
pads with chime alerts so you can be alerted
when the person is getting up from a
bed or chair.
- Remove doorsills, area carpets, and clutter
from walkways. Store items in baskets or
plastic crates if removal causes distress.
Memory aids like red electrical waterproof
tape wrapped around the hot water faucet can
visually signal which handle to turn when
the person forgets. Anti-scald valves prevent
scalding by either 1. reducing the hot water to
a trickle (screw on device) or 2. premixing the
water to a safe temperature before it flows out
of the pipe (requires plumber).
Leaving home and not being able to find
the way back is a serious problem, especially
since it happens so unpredictably. To alert you
that he or she is attempting to leave home,
try a door monitoring device that sounds a
remote chime in the rooms you are likely to
be in. When needed, install sliding locks high
or low on the door (they’re often not noticed).
Be sure to talk to the Association’s staff about
their programs that assist in the timely return
of persons who become lost, including their
Medic Alert Safe Return program and their
new Comfort Zone GPS Management
It can be difficult at times being a caregiver
to a person with dementia. But there are
many proactive steps you can take to create a
dementia-friendly home that eases caregiver
stress and promotes more positive outcomes.
Providing for the safety of your relative with
dementia is an on-going challenge, and changes
over time as the disease progresses. You can
keep learning by staying in touch with the
NYC Chapter, attending education meetings,
and learning from others in a support group.
If you are a family caregiver and are
interested in participating in a research
study to test the efficacy of our new
Web site, ThisCaringHome.org, please
email Ms. Bakker for more information at
ThisCaringHome.org is a Project of Weill Cornell Medical
for more helpful tips on
home safety, special
concerns, products and