Making the home safe and comfortable for a person with dementia
To help a person with dementia maintain their independence and quality of life, it’s important to make their home as safe and comfortable as possible. This needn’t be expensive or disruptive – small changes often make a big difference.
A good way to identify any changes that might benefit the person you care for is to take a tour around their home, looking for potential problems and ways to make improvements. If possible, involve the person in any changes you make.
To help the person with dementia recognise their home, avoid making noticeable changes outside, such as to the colour of the door. Try to look after any trees or plants so the outside area looks consistent. A large door number is also helpful.
If the person is prone to falls, install handrails next to steps, or consider converting steps into a ramp.
Inside, keep the hallway uncluttered so it’s easy to get in and out. Keep keys in a set place, such as a drawer in a hall table – make sure they’re not visible from the outside through a window or glass panel, as this may attract intruders.
Living rooms should be relaxing and cosy, so ensure chairs and sofas are comfortable and offer good support. Assistive furniture, which helps people stand up and sit down more easily, can be very useful – although sometimes expensive.
The living room is one of the most common places where falls happen, but you can take steps here and throughout the home to reduce the risk.
Remove rugs, or make sure the edges are stuck down
Keep the floor clear of clutter, especially trailing wires
Check that the person’s slippers and shoes fit properly
Keep essential objects like glasses and remote controls in a set place, within easy reach
Take away electric fires or heaters that could be accidentally left on or tripped over
Remove furniture with thin legs that could be tripped over
A personal alarm that the person can press if they fall may offer reassurance – these are usually worn on a lanyard
Although many people enjoy having the TV or radio on, try to avoid leaving them on if the person is no longer watching or listening. Background noise or sudden loud noises can cause confusion and distress, which could lead to accidents. You can buy simple remote controls with large, clearly labelled buttons that work with any television.
Many people with dementia have problems with vision and how they perceive objects, colours and patterns, which can cause confusion in the bathroom.
It may help to:
fit a coloured toilet seat that is a different colour from the toilet itself, so it’s easy to see
use coloured toilet paper on a freestanding holder
choose brightly coloured towels so they stand out on the towel rail
Other steps to make the bathroom safer include:
keeping the toilet lid up
leaving the light on at night
removing toilet and bathmats, so that the person doesn’t slip on them
installing grab rails at useful points around the bathroom
using flood and scald prevention plugs – these change colour if the water is too hot, and release water down the plughole if it gets too deep to prevent the sink or bath overflowing. They are available from shops selling assistive products
If you care for someone with dementia, it’s important to ensure their home is as safe as possible from fire. Local fire services can often carry out a free safety check and possibly fit free smoke alarms. Contact your local fire service to find out if this is on offer.
You can also:
Fit smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home, and a heat detector in the kitchen
Test smoke alarms regularly
Have gas and electric appliances checked annually
Ask your gas supplier about installing a gas valve limiter to prevent gas hobs or ovens being left on
Fit a cooker guard, which senses if an electric oven has been left on or the temperature is too high, and cuts the power – these are available from companies selling assistive living products
Ensure bedding, cushions and throws are fire retardant
Stick clear, typed instructions near appliances that use heat – for example, you could remind the person not to put foil and metal in the microwave, or to turn the iron off at the plug
If the person with dementia struggles to remember the layout of their home or where things are kept, labels and signs can be very helpful.
To avoid overwhelming the person, don’t introduce too many signs at once. Start with the ones that will help the most – you could put a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door, or label the fridge with pictures of milk and cheese.
Signs should be clear, easy to understand, and at eye level. You can find imagesonline to download andprint, or buy signs fromassistive living stores.
Occupational Therapists (OTs) work with people with dementia to identify daily activities that they find difficult and suggest ways to make them easier, including giving advice on home equipment and adaptations.
A Needs Assessment aims to establish what help a person might need to cope day to day. This might include assistive living products like a walking frame or a personal alarm, or changes to the home like a walk-in shower.
The assessment is usually carried out by a Social Worker or Occupational Therapist. It is free, and anyone can ask for one by contacting social services.
Bear in mind that you may need to pay for any home adjustments or equipment that are recommended. This is means-tested based on the person’s finances.
A Home Assessment is similar to a Needs Assessment but looks specifically at home adaptations and equipment to support daily living. You can arrange one online or by contacting your local council.
Your local council should fund small adaptations that cost under £1,000, such as grab rails or security lighting. If larger, more expensive changes are recommended, like fitting a stairlift or converting a bathroom to a wet room, you may need to pay for them yourself.
Many companies sell or hire living aids and assistive technology to make daily activities easier for the person with dementia. These companies will be happy to help you choose the right products to meet their needs, or you can contact our Admiral Nurses for independent advice: see Sources of support, below.
Our dementia specialist Admiral Nurses offer advice on any aspect of dementia, including making the home safe and comfortable. Contact the free Helpline on 0800 888 6678 (Monday-Friday 9am-9pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm, every day except 25th December) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.