Making things easier for someone with dementia
There are a number of things that you can do to make life easier – and safer – for your loved one with dementia.
Keys and locks: Consider rekeying all the locks in the house so that a single key opens them all – reducing the number of keys the person has to fumble with on a key chain. Make sure you have copies of the house key for yourself. Give another spare to a trustworthy neighbor in case the person in your care gets locked out of the house.
Labels: For some people with moderate dementia, it can be handy to put labels on a few of the most-used drawers and cabinets in the kitchen and bedroom. But keep the labels simple and minimal, as too many may be confusing.
Home delivery: Simplify routines by reducing the number of tasks a person has to remember. If he or she typically went out to buy a daily newspaper, arrange for home delivery. Some stores will deliver basic groceries such as milk and eggs. Prescription refills can often be handled by mail.
Pillbox: Whether the person in your care takes multiple medications or just one, a weekly pillbox helps him or her remember to do so day by day. Try attaching a cue card to the box with simple instructions covering when and how to take each medication (with meals, at night). If he or she has trouble remembering a pill that must be taken at a specific time, set a reminder alarm if you can – or an alarm for yourself so you can call to give a phone reminder.
Clean sweeps: Clutter and mess can confuse and distract people with Alzheimer's, causing them to forget where they placed or stored items or making them less able to handle certain tasks, like paying bills. Toss old periodicals and junk mail weekly. If someone comes in to clean the home, be sure the employee tidies surfaces and clears old papers – without drastically rearranging things, which can be confusing.
Bulletin board: Next to the calendar, hang a corkboard where you can post reminders, frequently used phone numbers (including yours), and other important information.
Photo directory: If the person you're caring for has lots of different faces to deal with – a Meals on Wheels volunteer, rotating home-health aides, adult daycare workers, physical therapists, doctors – try taking snapshots of them and placing these in a special album or even on a bulletin board in plain view. Label them with each person's name and relationship to the person in your care. You can refer to the pictures as prompts before a scheduled meeting.
Hygiene prompts: Keeping important personal hygiene items visible reminds the person to do personal-care tasks. For example, keep toothpaste out on the counter next to the toothbrush rather than in the medicine cabinet.
Journals and notepads: Writing things down helps them stick in the memory. Buy a simple day-by-day diary small enough to carry around and record big events (appointments, holidays) and other information to remember, such as details of conversations or things to buy at the store. You can also record key phone numbers there. Providing prompts several times a day to use the datebook can reinforce the habit. Keep extra paper and pens on hand by the telephone and TV for spur-of-the-moment note-taking.
I am a Licensed Social Worker and owner of Adult Comfort Care: A Person Centered in-home assisted living resource for seniors and their families.