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16 Sep 2020

Eight ways to make the home safer for someone with dementia

Many people with dementia want to stay in their homes for a long as possible. Here's how to make a house easier to manage during the early stages of the condition

Being diagnosed with dementia can be a shock. It's normal to worry about how you will look after yourself as the condition progresses, particularly if you live alone.

Dementia can cause memory problems, confusion and even physical difficulties as time goes on, making safety more of a concern. But there are many aids and adaptations that can help you stay independent in the home during the early stages of the illness.

For World Alzheimer's Day on 21 September, Which? takes a look at some of the tools and techniques that can make the house easier to manage if you, or someone you care for, has the condition.

1. Find a safe place for emergency numbers

Making your home safer doesn't have to be expensive. One simple step is to keep a list of emergency phone numbers in a convenient location such as by the phone or on the fridge. If you have a phone where you can store contacts, make sure these are in the phone itself too so you won't need to dial the number if you need to reach someone quickly.

Alongside your emergency contacts, it's a good idea to have a list of useful information, such as where to find your electricity meters, fuses and stopcock, so if there's a problem, someone will be able to help sort it out for you as quickly as possible.

2. Check your smoke alarms and boiler

Regularly check your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detector are working. These are vital for any house, but especially essential if you're in danger of forgetting you've turned on the cooker, for instance. Your local fire service might be able to provide a free home safety check to identify any risks within the home and potentially fit a smoke detector for free.

For extra support, you could buy smoke or gas detectors, which work like standard household alarms but will also transmit an alert to a monitoring centre if triggered.

And you don't want to find yourself without hot water or heating, so getting your boiler checked annually can also give you peace of mind, especially during a cold snap.

3. Sign up for personalised reminders

If you live alone and are worried about remembering certain household tasks, a digital memory aid can help. Some have motion detectors and play personalised messages. For instance, you can place it at the front door and it will remind you to take your keys when it senses you're leaving the house.

Others consist of a tablet computer that displays reminders, messages and can be used for video calls with relatives. You can set up the system yourself or give your relative the controls to manage it for you online.

You can also set up automated phone call reminders. Some providers let family members record personalised reminder messages for a loved one, such as taking medication or eating and drinking. They can also send an alert to a named contact if the call is not answered.

Voice assistants such as Google, Siri or Alexa can also be useful. You can tell these devices to remind you about certain tasks. Try these five easy-to-use Alexa commands to get you started with a voice assistant

You can also set up basic reminder calls (without a voice message) on any BT landline, but there is a charge for this.

4. Get help with remembering medication

Anyone can forget to take their medication, but you may be particularly worried about doing so if you have dementia. Similarly, forgetting you've already taken your pills and ending up with a double dose carries its own risks.

There are plenty of pill dispensers available that can take the stress out of remembering to take medication. Some of the more advanced models can hold up to four weeks' tablets at a time and can sound an alert when you're due to take a dose. The alarm will stop when you remove the tablets.

Some can even send a text message to family members or your carer if you miss a dose.

5. Protect yourself in the kitchen

Eating nutritious meals will help you stay independent and healthy, but many people with dementia find they get easily distracted in the kitchen, which can be dangerous.

Stove alarms are available for people who could leave the cooker turned on unattended, risking a fire. These clever tools learn how you usually use the cooker and sound an alarm if the stove is on for longer than usual or the temperature rises above normal levels.

Other kitchen gadgets such as electric kettles that switch off automatically, easy jar openers and dementia-safe knives can also help you stay safe when preparing meals.

6. Look into personal alarms

People with dementia are more likely to experience falls in the home, so a personal alarm can help you easily call for help.

There are lots of different types available, ranging from basic wearable devices, which rely purely on a loud noise to alert people nearby, to alarms that enable two-way communication with an emergency response centre. Some even have GPS tracking designed to help people at risk of getting lost and confused when they leave the house.

Personal alarms with monitoring often cost in the region of £150 a year. There's usually a one-off fee for equipment and set up, too. But it's definitely worth checking if your local authority offers a lifeline alarm service, as they may be much cheaper.

7. Set up smart at-home monitoring

The internet doesn't just help us easily find information and stay in touch with friends and family, smart technology can give peace of mind about the safety of a loved one with dementia.

Movement sensor devices can send alerts directly to carers. For instance, family members can set up the technology so they receive updates when their loved one gets out of bed, puts the kettle on or leaves the house.

This type of mobile health technology might be a good idea to monitor how dementia is progressing, but it's less effective at quickly spotting and dealing with an emergency, so it could be combined with a personal alarm for greater peace of mind.

September is World Alzheimer's Month. This year the Alzheimer's Society is urging more people to join the global Dementia Friends movement. Find out more on its website

8. Get a free needs assessment

If you might need help to remain independent in your own home, you should request a free needs assessment from your local authority.

An occupational therapist, nurse or social worker will usually visit you and ask some questions about how you are managing in your home. Afterwards, they may recommend services such as help with food shopping, mobility aids, home care or potentially moving into a care home.