Addressing home safety so people with dementia can stay at home

Although it can be important to maintain independence wherever possible, safety hazards in the home may cause concern. Helpline Adviser Angelo Makri shares tips about how to reduce risk.

'My dad lives alone and I'm getting increasingly worried about him cooking for himself. The other day he put a pint of milk in the microwave thinking it was the fridge, and I'm scared he's going to leave the gas on. Is there anything you can suggest?'

Dementia does cause changes in people's abilities and behaviours, and sometimes people might put themselves at risk from things such as accidents within the home.

Gas cooker controls in the kitchen

This may lead to carers and families having to balance the need to protect the person with dementia and that person's right to independence.

It is important that the person with dementia is involved in making decisions, and their consent should be given if possible before any plans are put into action.

Kitchen safety

Due to the types of equipment used in the kitchen it can be quite a dangerous place. However there are ways to minimise the risks. One of the most effective is to remove any appliances that your dad doesn't need or use, to reduce the chance that he'll mistake one for another.

You could put reminders or labels on the remaining appliances to avoid confusion about what each one does. Some people find it helpful to include a picture along with the name of the appliance - a block of ice under the word 'freezer' or a roasting chicken under the word 'oven'.

It can also help to remove smaller items that might be dangerous, such as sharp knives or matches, and leave less hazardous substitutes within reach. For instance, if your dad uses matches to light the gas hobs you could swap these for a small battery-operated lighter.

You could also speak to your gas supplier about fitting an isolation valve on the gas cooker, which would mean that the gas can't be turned on and left.

Telecare options

Telecare devices may also be helpful, alerting you to any dangers and shutting off the source of the problem. These devices can include sensors that warn you about gas leaks or extremely high and low temperatures, or flood sensors that automatically shut off the water as well as alerting you about the problem.

It would be best to look for solutions that can be integrated easily into your dad's usual routine, and which won't cause unnecessary disruption for him. You might also find it useful to ensure that any telecare devices are not too large or conspicuous, since this could cause him some confusion.

For general information about assistive technology as well as a range of products, see AT Dementia.

You can also see our factsheets ">Safety in the home (503) and ">Assistive technology - devices to help with everyday living (437), or call 01628 529240 or email [email protected] to order a copy.