Hi there Careblazer.
Welcome back. Today I want to talk about how to know whether or not your loved one with dementia is safe to be left home alone. The decline in dementia, in most cases, is a gradual one. Usually, the person with dementia experiences changes in their abilities over time, which means what they are able to do and not do changes with time. There are some people with dementia that are living at home alone and doing well and there are some people with dementia who are living in nursing homes with 24/7 supervision because they can’t be left alone at all. And of course there are people in the huge space in between.
If you would prefer to watch my video on this topic, click here.
I’m going to share with you some signs to look out for that suggest that your LOWD may not be safe to be alone any longer, including my number one way I personally use to see if someone should not be living alone and it’s something you can do with your loved one. You don’t want to miss it.
Before I share those signs, I want to remind all of you that tomorrow is the first live Q & A session with me. I’ll be going live and taking your dementia caregiving questions. I do this a few times a year, it’s completely free, and it’s not too late to save your spot. Just register here to get all the details. I hope to see many of you soon.
Alright, let’s get started. I want to be clear that the signs I talk about in this video are just that- warning signs. It’ doesn’t necessarily mean your LOWD needs to be moved out or have 24/7 care right away, it just means that a closer look needs to be done to figure out if there are steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk or if this is a sign that the next stage of care is needed. Except for my very last warning sign. In this case, I feel that a very serious consideration of having supervision should take place.
At some point, every person with dementia will need to have help and won’t be able to live safely on their own. But up until that point, what are the signs and symptoms to show you that maybe they need someone in the home with them when you go to work, or maybe it’s time they move in with family? Some of the biggest signs include:
Forgetting to turn off the stove, blow out candles, safely dispose of cigarettes, and the many other ways to start a fire. I once worked with a person with dementia who forgot to blow out candles and lived in a small apartment complex where he almost burned the entire complex down. Now these things don’t necessarily mean they can’t live alone right away, but it’s a sign and it’s definitely an indication that safety measures need to be put in place. Such as disabling the stove, removing all candles, making sure all smoke detectors are working properly and so on.
Another sign to watch out for is moldy, expired, and limited food in the fridge. This can mean that the person with dementia is having a hard time getting fresh food and cleaning out the fridge, or the person may not be able to tell that food has gone bad and may be eating harmful food. Online grocery delivery may be started, getting help with keeping the fridge clean can be ordered, and other options.
Unexplained cuts, bruises, scraps on their body. This can mean they are falling, tripping, or having some overall balance issues. It could be the sign they may not be able to be left alone or it just might be a sign they need a walker, cane, or that throw rugs need to be removed.
Allowing strangers in the home. If your loved one doesn't have the judgement to know who is safe to be in their home and who isn’t this is a big red flag. It places them at high risk for financial exploitation, a victim of theft, and even a victim of physical abuse.
Medication, if your loved one can’t remember to take their medication or takes it incorrectly.
And finally, the sign that I feel is a good indicator that they may not be able to be left home alone….
Do they know how to get help in an emergency.
You would be shocked if you knew how many people with dementia I’ve talked to that have no idea how to get help in an emergency. OR, the way they would get help in an emergency is not safe or quick. I’ve had people with dementia tell me they would call their family if there was an emergency. Seems like a decent response. But when I ask them, what if your family didn’t answer and you needed help quickly, what would you do? They might respond, I’d call my doctor. Then they can’t tell me their doctor’s name or number. But let’s say they did know that information, if their doctor didn’t answer or it was after hours, what then would you do to get help in an emergency. I’ll even stress that you need help right away, it’s urgent, an emergency. They still at no point tell me to call 911. I even put a phone in front of them and say show me what numbers to dial and they can’t. This is so eye opening because it seems pretty clear to us that if there is an emergency, we call 911. In dementia, this piece of information might go away.
Now the second piece of this that I often evaluate, is whether or not the person with dementia understands what constitutes and emergency. There are times when the person has no idea or can’t name when would be reason to call 911 like in the even of a fire, break-in, chest pain, etc.
So if you want to know if your loved one passes my very simple and basic test of being able to live alone, ask them how they would get help in an emergency situation. Don’t give them any clues or hints in the beginning. You want to be sure that if they really need the emergency response, they are going to get it. So ask the question and then see what they say. If they are able to say 911 pretty quickly, then ask them what are some situations that would require them to call 911 and make sure they understand that.
If I were to add one more thing to this piece, I would want to make sure that your loved one has the physical ability to get to the phone and that they are they are actually able to use the phone. Sometimes, the person with dementia has the cognitive ability to know what to do, but they lost the physical ability due to poor finger dexterity, poor vision, difficulty operating a phone and so in. In these cases, they don’t necessarily need to move somewhere else, but getting them a life alert system or a phone that hangs around their neck are options that you may want to consider.
I hope this helps you as you start to think about the safety of your loved one living on their own, or even just spending some time home alone. Home safety with dementia is an important topic. .
I’ll be back next week Careblazer. In the meantime, I hope to see many of you for the live Q&A happening tomorrow and again next week.
Stay safe. Bye.