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Smart Home Security in the Face of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

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Smart Home Security in the Face of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
March 2, 2020
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Smart Home Security in the Face of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia

Individuals

living at home with Alzheimer’s disease can stay safer with simple precautions—and

the latest in smart home security technology

Some patients suffering from the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia choose to continue living in their own homes, but this presents unique challenges. Their loved ones and caregivers may feel helpless to protect them from such dangers as fires, accidents, and the possibility of dementia “wandering.”

While you may assume that individuals would be better off moving to a nursing home or an assisted living facility, recent research suggests otherwise, in some cases. Many patients with milder Alzheimer’s disease or dementia symptoms benefit from remaining in their homes, as long as they have committed, compassionate, and attentive caregivers.

Even the most conscientious caregivers, however, cannot maintain vigilance 24 hours a day. During the periods when they’re left alone, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia sufferers are particularly vulnerable to many common household hazards. Fortunately, there are solutions which can reduce some risks and help people enjoy the comforts of home for as long as possible.

This article provides information from leading experts on Alzheimer’s and dementia care for caregivers who wish to allow loved ones to remain in their own homes—for as long as it is safe and practical to do so.

Making

adjustments to the home can help safeguard individuals with Alzheimer’s disease

or dementia from danger

The National Institute on Aging and the Mayo Clinic recommend numerous safety precautions for the homes of people with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It should be noted that safety-proofing the home is not a one-time task. Both organizations recommend regular re-evaluation of safety and security needs as the individual’s illness progresses since abilities and behavior often change.

Start with a whole-home safety upgrade

The process begins with an assessment of risks in and around the entire home. In addition to considering the physical aspects of the residence, you should also think carefully about the health, abilities, and typical behavior of the patient.

What are they able to do without assistance? Are there any potentially hazardous activities they are likely to attempt, like home maintenance, driving, or swimming in the pool? Pay special attention to securing the areas and equipment associated with these activities. Other whole-home safety measures recommended by leading authorities include the following:

  • Make sure the caregiver’s telephone number and home address, along with other emergency numbers, are posted near every telephone in the house. This precaution will help not only the individual but will also aid any first responders who may be called to the house.
  • Look for and remove tripping hazards such as loose rugs, extension cords, household clutter, etc.
  • Safety-proof stairs by making sure they are carpeted or have safety-grip strips to provide extra traction. Consider blocking non-essential stairways with a gate.
  • All medications should be clearly labeled, kept in a safe place, and secured with childproof caps if necessary. You can use a door and window sensor on medicine cabinets, letting you know if elderly parents take their medication at appropriate times.
  • Remove or secure smoking accessories, liquor, guns, power tools, and other potential sources of danger.
  • Protect computers in the home with passwords, virus protection, and filtering software.

After this general safety check, caregivers can then tackle health and safety hazards—both outside and inside the house on a room-by-room basis.

Secure

the outside of the home

While it’s relatively easy to identify many common safety hazards inside the home, we tend to overlook how much time we spend outside. Just like the rest of us, many Alzheimer’s and dementia patients enjoy spending time outdoors, tending to lawn and garden needs, barbecuing, or simply relaxing in a swing or patio chair.

They are likely to continue pursuing such activities after their diagnosis, so caretakers should look for and correct any potential trouble areas in the front and back yards. Expert recommendations include:

  • Outline outside steps with reflective tape.
  • Consider replacing outside steps with a ramp and handrails.
  • Look for and correct tripping hazards such as uneven walkways or landscaping.
  • Secure outdoor pools by covering them and/or barring entry with a locked gate.
  • Remove propane tanks from outdoor grills and supervise any grill use.
  • Provide adequate, motion sensor-activated outdoor lighting.
  • A “No Soliciting” sign outside may discourage individuals who might otherwise take advantage of an Alzheimer’s disease/dementia sufferer.
  • Secure or remove all vehicles and bicycles.

Both the National Institute on Aging and the Mayo Clinic also recommend maintaining tight security on the telephone for individuals with more advanced diagnoses. One solution is to set the phone to go directly to voicemail when a caregiver is not present, although this makes it difficult to contact the resident. Because loud telephone rings can cause alarm or confusion in some patients, ringer volume should also be lowered significantly.

Ensure safety in the kitchen

Kitchens, of course, can present all sorts of potential hazards, from sharp utensils to open flames. Even households without those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia understand the need for commonsense safety precautions while preparing food or performing other tasks. Because your loved ones may insist on attempting to prepare food themselves, it is essential to provide safeguards and supervision of dangerous cooking.

The following measures suggested by experts can also help make the kitchen less dangerous:

  • Make sure access to the stove is protected with safety knobs and an automatic shut-off switch.
  • You can install childproof latches on drawers and cabinets and remove knives and other sharp utensils and tools. 
  • Remove food-shaped refrigerator magnets, artificial fruits, and any other non-edible items that may cause confusion.
  • Disconnect garbage disposals.

In many homes, kitchens can become repositories for all manner of household odds and ends, some of which could prove to be choking, tripping, or cutting hazards. Empty out all kitchen “junk drawers,” store needed items in a secure place, and discard the rest.

The less clutter the better, even inside drawers and cabinets. Decluttering drawers and cabinets throughout the house also provides an opportunity to discover hidden or forgotten sources of danger, like caustic cleaning products or even weapons.

Improve

bedroom safety

The bedroom is one of the less-dangerous areas of the home. Bedrooms usually contain no running water, sharp implements, or hot surfaces, and they are comfortably furnished. Nonetheless, they can be a source of danger, including the possibility of falls and the risk of fire or injury from space heaters and other heating accessories.

Here are a few ways to make the bedroom safer:

  • Remove any space heaters.
  • Install a night-light—or smart lightbulbs that can be turned on with voice commands from a connected smart home speaker.
  • Anticipate bedtime needs like hunger, thirst, and using the bathroom and make sure they are attended to before a loved one goes to bed.
  • Avoid the use of heated accessories like heating pads and electric blankets, or monitor their usage closely.
  • Remove throw rugs and clutter.

Many of us have experienced disorientation while waking up or moving around our bedrooms in the dark. For Alzheimer’s disease and dementia sufferers, this experience can be far worse and lead to panic or injury. Make sure that traffic areas in the bedroom are clear and reasonably lit, even at night. Smart home security systems can even tie smart lights to motion sensors that automatically turn on lights when an individual gets up. Simplify and minimize bed coverings to avoid entanglement and tripping. Keep a minimum of extra furnishings and decor in the bedroom and remove any furnishings with sharp corners.

Prevent bethroom injuries

Like the kitchen, the bathroom is an area of the home that’s well-known for safety issues. And these risks grow significantly for elderly individuals with reduced motor skills.

Slippery tubs and floors tend to top the list, but there are other causes for concern, especially for individuals with dementia who may have difficulty with balance or trouble with simple tasks like judging water temperature or even turning the water on and off. Unlike the kitchen, however, it is not practical to restrict a loved one’s use of the bathroom—so extra care must be taken to safety-proof this part of the house. The National Institute on Aging and the Mayo Clinic recommend the following:

  • Install grab bars near the toilet and in the tub or shower. The grab bar’s color should contrast with that of the wall.
  • Install a safety mat or non-stick strips in the tub or shower and on smooth floor surfaces.
  • Shield bathtub faucets with a protective cover.
  • Set a water heater’s temperature to 120°F (48.9°C) or below to prevent accidental burns.
  • Remove bathroom door locks.
  • Consider replacing tiled flooring with carpet.
  • Remove electrical appliances.
  • Install a basic night light (or motion- or voice-activated smart lights).

At some point, people with Alzheimer’s or dementia will begin to require help and supervision while bathing or using the toilet. This may feel uncomfortable at first to both caregiver and patient—and, unfortunately, many caregivers do not insist on helping until the individual has suffered an accident of some sort. But the National Institute on Aging and the Mayo Clinic advise that the earlier a caregiver begins providing bathroom assistance, the faster it will become a comfortable routine.

The tips above represent some of the most common fixes required to safety-proof a residence for those who stay at home with an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis. But it is by no means a comprehensive list.

Each home is likely to present individual hazards that are not directly addressed here. Caregivers should keep a constant lookout for potential problems and take careful note of any aspects of the household that seem to cause repeated difficulties. And you should consult with a healthcare professional for assistance in devising a home safety plan.

Smart

home security systems can also protect those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease

Smart home security systems can help you monitor the activity of loved ones and the security of the household, even when you’re not there. This technology can alert you when there is a cause for concern, reducing the likelihood of serious injury, unnecessary distress, and dementia wandering.

All homes have a risk of fire and carbon monoxide buildup. Households with Alzheimer’s or dementia sufferers stand an even greater risk, however. Loved ones may inadvertently start a fire or cause a carbon monoxide leak while attempting to use household appliances or lighters or matches. Individuals with an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis are also less likely to notice or understand the tell-tale signs of a fire or gas leak, and they may be incapable of taking basic measures like calling 911, operating a fire extinguisher, or even exiting the home quickly.

Therefore, it is especially critical to make sure that the home is equipped with smart smoke and heat sensors and carbon monoxide sensors. While traditional detectors are good at sensing smoke and carbon monoxide, most devices simply emit a loud auditory alarm when triggered. This has the potential to frighten or confuse Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers and it is often inaudible outside of the home. If a loved one is unable to take care of the problem or exit the house, no help is likely to come running. And it can take just minutes for someone to be overcome by smoke or carbon monoxide.

Unlike traditional detectors, smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors not only trigger an interior alarm but also alert a 24/7 monitoring service which can then notify first responders. Caregivers can also be alerted immediately on their smartphones or another device as soon as a threat is detected.

Smart

home security systems can help prevent or spot dementia wandering

One of the most common hazards faced by people diagnosed with dementia is their tendency to wander. The Mayo Clinic explains that individuals tend to wander for many reasons.

They may be attempting to leave a stressful or frightening situation or may be searching for a person or object. In other cases, they might be attempting to follow previous routines like going to work or shopping. They may even simply be bored and searching for stimulation. Regardless of the reason, people who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia may become disoriented or lost, and they can face extreme danger. Exposure to the elements, traffic, and dangerous animals or humans can lead to tragic results.

Picture of woman with dementia wandering outsidePicture of woman with dementia wandering outside
Dementia wandering can place individuals in extreme danger.

Several smart home security devices can help reduce the dangers associated with dementia wandering. Door and window sensors, like those provided by Frontpoint, will notify caregivers when doors or windows are opened at unexpected times. In addition to monitoring the home’s openings, the sensors can also be placed on interior doors, such as medicine cabinets, basement doors, or any other object that opens and closes and needs to be monitored.

Caregivers can supplement the security coverage provided by door and window sensors by installing smart motion sensors at key points in the house. Frontpoint smart home security systems use an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Engine to learn the typical activity patterns in the home. In the event of unusual activity, such as a loved one moving frantically from room to room, remaining still for an extended period, or exiting the home altogether, the system can automatically notify caregivers.

Home security

cameras can monitor activity and safety

While it is certainly helpful to receive notifications when something unusual is happening, not every alarm or alert will signify an emergency. Caregivers who want to minimize false alarms and unnecessary worry can also install smart camera systems that can be remotely monitored from a smartphone or another mobile device.

If a door or window sensor is triggered unexpectedly or motion sensors detect unusual activity, caregivers can access real-time video feeds to assess the situation. Frontpoint’s Indoor Cameras and Premium Indoor Cameras even have two-way audio features that allow caregivers to converse directly with the resident to determine whether there is cause for concern.

Picture of the Frontpoint Premium Indoor CameraPicture of the Frontpoint Premium Indoor Camera
Frontpoint’s Premium Indoor Camera features two-way talk capability and provides an extra-wide 180-degree view.

Besides allowing you to check on alarms and notifications, cameras help provide the day-to-day monitoring required to ensure the health and safety of people with an Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis. Video can not only alert loved ones of worsening symptoms or erratic activity, but provide oversight of any professional caregivers who are hired to help.

While smart cameras can be mounted anywhere in the home, they are especially effective when pointed at areas where safety issues are likely to arise, such as stairways, kitchens, front and back doors, and, if a loved one agrees, bedrooms and bathrooms.

Smart

door locks, lighting, “scenes,” and more

There are other ways that smart home security systems can help loved ones stay safe and comfortable. Frontpoint’s Smart Door Locks can be remotely locked and opened to prevent entry into points of concern, such as basement doors. Smart Door Locks also keep track of all visitors and entries and exits—you can assign up to 50 unique entry codes for authorized users, allowing the system to track and notify you who opens each door and when.

Smart home security systems can manage lighting, helping to prevent falls and disorientation by automatically turning on lights when motion sensors detect someone entering a room or unlocking the front door. The system can even be set to activate specific “scenes” at certain times of the day. For example, a programmed scene might turn on nightlights, lock exterior doors, and arm the home’s perimeter security sensors at sundown. It can even adjust a smart home thermostat to predetermined levels.

For Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers who do run into trouble in the home—such as falls or other injuries—Frontpoint also provides a Panic Pendant. This wearable alarm button can be triggered anywhere in or near the home, sending alerts to the professional 24/7 monitoring service who can dispatch medical or police assistance.

Picture of seniors in their homePicture of seniors in their home

Some

individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia can live at

home—with approval from healthcare professionals and proper safety precautions

Each person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia who chooses to continue living at home faces a unique set of challenges—as do their loved ones and other caregivers. Individuals in the early stages of a condition may still be capable of living alone with light monitoring and good security measures. Those with more advanced diagnoses may require a live-in caregiver who could be a professional or a family member.

Moreover, each home has its own layout and its own set of potential trouble spots and hazards. Make sure to consult with healthcare professionals to determine the best situation that meets your loved one’s needs.

If it’s determined that a person can stay at home safely, smart home security systems can help monitor the situation and provide vital information. And each setup can be configured to fit the specific needs of different individuals and living scenarios.


Frontpoint keeps homes safe whether families are there or not. We've been revolutionizing the home security industry for over a decade. And we're just getting started. To shop DIY home security systems, check out our Security Packages. If you have questions or would like to discuss a quote, contact us at 1-877-602-5276.

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