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Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Modifying Your Home for a Loved One With Alzheimer’s Disease

Caregivers are lifesavers who give of their own time to care for loved ones. If you’re a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer’s disease, you face unique, daily challenges. Modifying your home for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, whether a parent, grandparent, spouse, or sibling, takes patience, and additional changes may need to be made as the disease progresses in your loved one. However, there are a few things you can do now to prepare for the future.

First Off… Find Financing

Modifying your home for your loved one comes with a price tag, leaving you wondering how in the world you are going to afford the changes. However, there are various financing options, some of which are quite popular, like selling your loved one’s home or car, renting their home, or getting a home equity loan for your own home. There are other options as well, one of which you might not have thought of but is reasonably practicable under the right circumstances – a life settlement. These funds can be used to make home modifications or provide funds for medical expenses and daily living assistance. According to Paying for Senior Care, there are pros and cons to making this choice, so weigh the option carefully before committing to it.  

Other financing options to look into include HUD property improvement loans, community development block grants, funds from the Older Americans Act, or basic bank loans.

Small, DIY Changes

DIY projects might not be your forte, but don’t let the letters DIY lead you to think of failed Pinterest projects. Instead, think of it as small adjustments you can make on your own to your home to increase safety and livability for your loved one. For example, lighting can be a problem area for those with Alzheimer’s; shadows can cause hallucinations, and the lack of natural light can cause “sundowning” in the late evening, resulting in irritability, agitation, and confusion. By replacing your current bulbs with a cool temperature bulb that bares a close resemblance to natural light, you can compensate for the loss of light as the day wears on.

The Caregiver’s Voice notes clutter is another area that can cause stress for both caregivers and their declining loved ones. In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, your senior is easily confused and might feel as though he or she needs to constantly find something to keep occupied with, creating a state of chaos. Plus, piles of stuff make it easy for important items to be misplaced and for them to become tripping hazards. 

Spend some time decluttering so you can get organized and provide your loved one with helpful memory aids, such as labels on rooms, cabinets, and drawers with words or pictures to state what is in this room/in this drawer. The type of memory aid depends most on the stage of the disease in your loved one.

Tackle the Big Stuff

Break out the screwdrivers, hammers, tape measures, and levels to focus on renovating the big stuff of your home. Go room by room and focus both on what you can do to improve the safety and quality of life for your senior loved one. 

The combination of smooth surfaces, water, and soap make bathrooms particularly hazardous for seniors, so start there. Install safety products for help, such as grab bars, raised toilet seats, and motion-activated night lights. Add non-slip mats and a shower stool to make bathing easier on your loved one. Also check that the water heater does not go above 120 degrees to avoid burns when your loved one is bathing or showering without assistance. 

As for the bedroom, install additional lighting here as well and remove any tripping hazards. If your loved one is still somewhat independent but requires assistance with dressing, bathing, or toileting, you can use a bell or intercom system; you can even use a smart home assistant such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home as an intercom.

The kitchen can be an especially dangerous place for your loved one, so you’ll need to modify this room as well. Start by locking away all items that could potentially pose a danger to your loved one, such as cleaning supplies, medications, scissors, knives, and small appliances. Cooking may still be a beloved habit of your loved one, but he or she might not be able to safely use the stove unsupervised. Have a shut-off valve or lock-out switch installed, depending on whether your stove is gas or electric; you might even consider upgrading to smart appliances that you can control with an app. If over time you notice a particular item causing confusion for your loved one, modify it if possible or remove it completely.

Outdoor Safety

People with Alzheimer’s or other memory-loss conditions are often prone to wandering, so making modifications with this issue in mind is a must. You might want to install window and door alarms to alert you if your senior should stray. For outside, there will be times that soaking up sunshine and fresh air is a welcomed joy to your senior, so consider connecting with a fencing company nearby to install a physical boundary in your yard to keep your senior home and safe. 

Contractors are notorious for scams, but you may need a pro for major projects like fencing. Learn what red flags to look for, read through reviews and ratings, and check licensing and insurance before you hire someone so you avoid becoming a victim.  Bigger modifications to your home can not only provide the safety and security you need, but when done properly, they can be aesthetically pleasing and can boost your home value if and when you sell.

Being a caregiver is often a thankless job, but the work you are doing is truly remarkable. Alzheimer’s makes taking care of your loved one difficult and overwhelming at times, but some joy can come from it also. You can’t stop the disease, but modifying your home makes life a whole lot easier for you and your loved one.

The Society of Certified Senior Advisors provides comprehensive classes and training for people in personal and professional caregiving roles. For more information or to subscribe to their newsletter, call 800.653.1785.

About the Author
Claire Wentz is a former home health nurse and recognizes that our aging population means many more people will become senior caregivers over the years.