Tips for Modifying a Home for Alzheimer's Care

Mention the topic of Alzheimer’s care, and many people picture a clinical setting. Yet studies show that 73 percent of patients receive most of their care in the family home, according to the National Institutes of Health. This post offers tips for preparing the residential environment with the sufferer’s needs in mind. This material is just an introduction. Consult a dementia care or aging-in-place specialist in your community for detailed guidelines.

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The Basics

Some of the more elementary home-modification steps will sound familiar to anyone who has raised small children. They include:

  • Installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors or ensuring that those in place are in good working order.
  • Replacing light bulbs with brighter units or installing added lighting fixtures to accommodate failing vision.
  • Lowering the temperature in the home’s water heater to prevent scalding.
  • Controlling access to the home’s swimming pool or hot tub (if applicable).
  • Keeping emergency contact information on hand at all times.
  • Removing knobs from the stove.
  • Keeping knives and food preparation appliances out of easy reach.
  • Locking medicine cabinets and chemical storage areas.

Moderate and Advanced Modifications

Some of the following steps are needed whenever modifying a home for aging-in-place purposes. Others are intended for persons suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia:

  • Installing a wheelchair ramp.
  • Installing grab bars in the bathrooms, hallways, or other parts of the home to which the patient has access.
  • Installing locks on the refrigerator to prevent late-night binging.
  • Installing tamper-resistant locks on second-story windows, especially if patients sleep or spend part of their waking hours upstairs.
  • Keeping an extra set of household keys hidden outside the home, in case patients lock themselves in or other household residents out.
  • Removing objects that patients may put in their mouth, such as bric-a-brac, office supplies, or kitchen items.
  • Removing trip hazards such as rugs and loose carpeting.
  • Adding an adjoining restroom to the patient’s bedroom.
  • Removing mirrors and other glass objects the patient may break.
  • Replacing the existing bed with a model designed for medical patients (i.e., a hospital bed).
  • Installing outside lighting.

Your physician or caseworker may recommend other steps, depending on the patient’s needs and/or diagnosis.

Paying for It All

The website eldercare.gov has links to potential funding resources for the types of modifications discussed in this post. These programs fall into three broad categories:

  • Publicly funded options: These vary from one locality to the next and are often subject to income requirements and other special qualifications.
  • Private foundation grants or technical assistance: You may wish to contact your city or country officials, leaders of your faith community, or veteran’s organizations to find out about these resources. Some organizations offer help in the form of hands-on assistance, which can include providing skilled or semi-skilled workers capable of installing wheelchair ramps, grab bars, etc. at no cost except possibly for materials.
  • Loans from banks or other private entities.

One particularly innovative approach is the “village” model, which brings seniors in a community together to fund home modifications and other services. This approach enjoys growing support among private and public policymakers.

Finding a Certified Contractor

The National Association of Home Builders maintains a nationwide database of contractors certified in performing aging-in-place modifications. These companies understand the needs of Alzheimer’s patients and older persons in general. Choosing one of these firms can help to ensure your satisfaction with the final results.

Life sometimes calls on us to go above and beyond in helping others. This is certainly the case with those who care for Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers. The information in this post cannot remove the burdens caregivers and their patients face. But it can make those burdens easier to bear, which is a good start.

Alise Roberts