Cognitive health—the ability to clearly think, learn, and remember—is an important component of brain health. Others include motor function, emotional function and sensory function.
Use the following room-by-room checklist to alert you to potential hazards and to record any changes you need to make to help keep a person with Alzheimer’s disease safe. You can buy products or gadgets necessary for home safety at stores carrying hardware, electronics, medical supplies, and children's items.
Keep in mind that it may not be necessary to make all of the suggested changes. This article covers a wide range of safety concerns that may arise, and some modifications may never be needed. It is important, however, to re-evaluate home safety periodically as behavior and abilities change.
Throughout the Home
- Display emergency numbers and your home address near all telephones.
- Use an answering machine when you cannot answer phone calls, and set it to turn on after the fewest number of rings possible. A person with Alzheimer's disease often may be unable to take messages or could become a victim of telephone exploitation. Turn ringers on low to avoid distraction and confusion. Put all portable and cell phones and equipment in a safe place so they will not be easily lost.
- Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in or near the kitchen and all sleeping areas. Check their functioning and batteries frequently.
- Avoid the use of flammable and volatile compounds near gas appliances. Do not store these materials in an area where a gas pilot light is used.
- Install secure locks on all outside doors and windows.
- Install alarms that notify you when a door or window is opened.
- Hide a spare house key outside in case the person with Alzheimer's disease locks you out of the house.
- Avoid the use of extension cords if possible by placing lamps and appliances close to electrical outlets. Tack extension cords to the baseboards of a room to avoid tripping.
- Cover unused electrical outlets with childproof plugs.
- Place red tape around floor vents, radiators, and other heating devices to deter the person with Alzheimer's from standing on or touching them when hot.
- Check all rooms for adequate lighting.
- Place light switches at the top and the bottom of stairs.
Cognitive impairment is when a person has problems remembering, learning, concentrating, or making decisions that affect everyday life. Millions of people in the U.S. show some sort of cognitive impairment. People with cognitive impairment are at higher risk for developing dementia, which is the loss of cognitive functioning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common dementia diagnosis.
Researchers have been looking for ways to test for early signs of cognitive impairment and dementia. Early detection could open the door to strategies that prevent disease progression. Potential biomarkers include changes in the size and function of the brain and its parts, as well as levels of certain proteins seen on brain scans, in cerebrospinal fluid, and in blood. People with Alzheimer’s disease, for example, have abnormally high levels of plaques made up of beta-amyloid and tangles made of tau proteins.
To look for earlier biomarkers of cognitive decline, a team led by Dr. Berislav V. Zlokovic at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, examined two markers involved in the breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. This barrier controls the movement of cells and molecules between the blood and the fluid that surrounds the brain’s nerve cells. Past studies have found that abnormalities in the small blood vessels (capillaries) of the brain often contribute to dementia.
The team enrolled more than 160 people with and without cognitive impairment. They measured levels of the soluble form of a protein called platelet-derived growth factor receptor beta (PDGFRβ). PDGFRβ is found in the capillaries that maintain the blood-brain barrier’s integrity. Levels of the soluble form rise in cerebrospinal fluid when the blood-brain barrier is compromised. The team also tracked the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in 73 participants using an MRI-based technique they’d previously developed. The study was supported in part by NIH’s National Institute on Aging (NIA) and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Results were published online on January 14, 2018, in Nature Medicine.
If you are a caregiver for an dementia patient or other elderly person, your best defense against mental and physical health disorders is taking care of yourself.
Exercise and physical activity aren’t just good for your mind and body, it can help you stay active and mobile as you age! Regularly including all 4 types of exercise will give you a wide range of real-life benefits.
Endurance activities help you:
- Keep up with your grandchildren during a trip to the park.
- Dance to your favorite songs at the next family wedding.
- Rake the yard and bag up the leaves.
Holidays can be meaningful, enriching times for both the person with Alzheimer’s disease and his or her family. Maintaining or adapting family rituals and traditions helps all family members feel a sense of belonging and family identity. For a person with Alzheimer’s, this link with a familiar past is reassuring.
However, when celebrations, special events, or holidays include many people, this can cause confusion and anxiety for a person with Alzheimer’s. He or she may find some situations easier and more pleasurable than others. The tips below can help you and the person with Alzheimer’s visit and reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors during holidays.
Finding the Right Balance
Many caregivers have mixed feelings about holidays. They may have happy memories of the past, but they also may worry about the extra demands that holidays make on their time and energy.
Here are some ways to balance doing many holiday-related activities while taking care of your own needs and those of the person with Alzheimer’s disease:
- Celebrate holidays that are important to you. Include the person with Alzheimer’s as much as possible.
- Set your own limits, and be clear about them with others. You do not have to live up to the expectations of friends or relatives. Your situation is different now.
- Involve the person with Alzheimer’s in simple holiday preparations, or have him or her observe your preparations. Observing you will familiarize him or her with the upcoming festivities. Participating with you may give the person the pleasure of helping and the fun of anticipating and reminiscing.
- Consider simplifying your holidays around the home. For example, rather than cooking an elaborate dinner, invite family and friends for a potluck. Instead of elaborate decorations, consider choosing a few select items.
- Encourage friends and family to visit even if it’s difficult. Limit the number of visitors at any one time, or have a few people visit quietly with the person in a separate room. Plan visits when the person usually is at his or her best.
- Prepare quiet distractions to use, such as a family photo album, if the person with Alzheimer’s becomes upset or overstimulated.
- Make sure there is a space where the person can rest when he or she goes to larger gatherings.
- Try to avoid situations that may confuse or frustrate the person with Alzheimer’s, such as crowds, changes in routine, and strange places. Also try to stay away from noise, loud conversations, loud music, lighting that is too bright or too dark, and having too much rich food or drink (especially alcohol).
- Find time for holiday activities you like to do. If you receive invitations to celebrations that the person with Alzheimer’s cannot attend, go yourself. Ask a friend or family member to spend time with the person while you’re out.