-Dr.Kathy Johnson, PhD, CMC
It is a very challenging task to take care of someone who has Alzheimer’s or another form of memory loss in your home. The story of a 60-year-old Brooklyn resident named John that cares for his Uncle Karl who has Alzheimer’s was featured in a Huffington Post article by Kathryn Haslanger. Karl normally has help from a part-time aid while John is working; yet Karl is adamant about doing things for himself even though his condition is worsening. Karl’s doctor suggested that he receive home care visits from an occupational therapist to help John with modifying the environment at home to deal with the growing challenges of Karl’s dementia.
The occupational therapist, Jennifer E. Anderson, explained that those with dementia often feel as though they can keep themselves safe and in control, when they actually cannot. John must be constantly vigilant with Karl.
Mrs. Anderson also told John that because those with dementia become more resistant over time to changes within their environment, that changes should be made as soon as possible. These changes should also be on the permanent side so that the person with dementia cannot attempt to remove/change them. Some examples of these changes were to change the present toilet for a higher one, along with switching out the towel bars for grab bars. Keeping clutter down is also very important as to “…reduce confusion, but keep things where they always were. For example, two coffee mugs are probably enough, but make sure they’re in the same place they always were.” Another suggestion was to remove stove knobs to prevent its usage, but to encourage microwave cooking instead. Lastly, Mrs. Anderson encouraged Karl to wear a Personal Emergency Response Service (PERS) system in case he feels unsafe or hurts himself when he is alone.
Mrs. Anderson warned John about the late-stages of dementia and things to do to make Karl safer in his home. She advised that John should eventually cover the mirrors in his home as many patients become upset by their reflections and think that a stranger is watching them, as they do not recognize their appearance. Another common occurrence is people wandering away from home, which can be deterred by the caregiver installing a curtain to cover the door.
Mrs. Anderson suggested the eventual use of an advanced technology that monitors the movements of people with dementia and alerts the caregivers as to where they are and what they are doing. John commented, “While we all decided we are not ready for that level, or that cost, yet, we are staying open to the idea.”