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How to Keep a Senior with Alzheimer's Safe

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
June 01, 2012

Question: My mother is the caregiver to my step father who has Alzheimer's. She gets very frustrated with him when he goes outside to do anything, because she's afraid he's going to hurt himself. She feels that if he hurts himself, she could go to jail for not protecting him and neglecting his care. Is that a possible scenario? What can be done?

Answer: I don’t think your mother is going to automatically be thrown in jail for letting your step father go out of the house. That thought is a little overdramatic.  She does have her conscience to live with though. Perhaps these ideas will help.

That said, she should be taking steps to ensure as much as possible his safety inside the house and outside the house. If their yard is fenced and he can’t climb over the fence, there’s no harm letting him outside to partake in an activity of his liking, such as gardening. Getting at least 20 minutes a day of natural sunlight is good for him, and his mood. Mom should be outside with him, participating in the activity together with him, and of course, watching out for his safety. If he wants to get the mail, she should accompany him, lest he wander off.

If it is inappropriate for him to be going out at any given time, then measures should be taken to stop him from doing that. He should never be left in a locked house alone. Someone must be there with him if he is to be locked in.  A deadbolt lock on the front and back doors either above or below is line of sight is one way to do it. Sometimes hiding the door by blending it into the surrounding walls using the same paint and/or wallpaper to cover it is another. Putting a picture of a stop sign or a danger sign might work. Putting away triggers that would make one think of going outside near the door, like keys, shoes or coats would help.

Probably the biggest thing that would help is if your mother could learn to REDIRECT him. That is, change his focus on going outside to focus on other things inside the house. She should use his short attention span to have him help her with something like folding towels or sorting things. Maybe giving him a snack would distract him from his thought for awhile. He needs to be busy, useful and engaged in something as much as possible. That would help keep his focus on the thing in front of him rather than on the things beckoning him outside.  Yes it takes a great deal of time and effort on your mother’s part, but then so does fretting about the trouble that he’ll get into when he is outside, out of her sight.

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Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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