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Practical tips for dealing with dementia at home

 For many years dads are often the ones we rely upon. When dementia means the roles must reverse, there are practical things that can help.
For many years dads are often the ones we rely upon. When dementia means the roles must reverse, there are practical things that can help.

When dementia strikes, a sense of helplessness comes with it.

When dementia strikes, a sense of helplessness comes with it. But sometimes the best way to combat helplessness is to do what you can, when you can, for as long as you can, the best way you can. Fighting life’s battles like this isn’t easy, and as the reality of dementia unfolds in my extended family this Father’s Day, I’m reminded how practical changes to the home can make a worthwhile difference.

I first met the man who would become my father-in-law in 1981. He’d come to Canada with his family as general manager of a multi-national corporation, and even to an 18 year-old with other things on my mind, I could see this guy was capable and decisive. He was also a bit intimidating at first.

As I grew older and became this man’s son-in-law, we’d sometimes sit around the barbecue sipping something cold, me asking questions about life and business, him answering. Fast-forward to Father’s Day 2019 and all the answers are gone. The man who led successful corporations across the Americas can no longer remember the names of his kids. Years of jogging and healthy eating means he’s in great physical shape except for his brain. Few things are sadder than this.

The thing about life is that it creates the illusion everything will go on as it always has. Dementia is one of many things that changes life dramatically, though not at first. Since the onset of the condition is usually gradual, it allows the luxury of hope that it’s not what you think it is. One small blessing is the way the slow advance gives you time to modify your home to make the situation more manageable for a while.

My wife was the first to mention that something wasn’t right with dad. There was a certain uncharacteristic hesitation now and then, the occasional simple word that he couldn’t find, a moment of reduced facial expression. If you’ve seen dementia take hold, you know the signs.

Dementia is one of countless ways our mortality comes home to roost.  As painful as it is, there are practical things you can do around the house to make life with dementia safer and more enjoyable for everyone.  DIY modifications really can make a difference.

Keyless entry locks and door hardware: Installing a keyless entry system is the only practical way to give access to trusted caregivers who help manage someone with dementia. Keyless entry is also essential if you subscribe to an emergency home assistance service. A sliding bolt latch with a combination lock built in is the easiest way to restrict access to dangerous doors such as those leading downstairs or outside.

Easy-to-read clocks: Time is one of the important ways we orient ourselves to the world, so consider getting a digital clock with a big and simple read out. The best desk and table clock I know of for people with dementia is made by Dayclox ( www.daycloxcanada.com ).

Make hot water safer: Turn the temperature of your hot water heater down to just under 120ºF to reduce the burn hazard. Taps and shower faucets can also be fitted with individual controls that limit water temperature only at those fixtures.

Be educated about the risks of going missing: About 60% of people living with dementia become lost at some point, and there’s a great risk of serious injury if they aren’t found within 24 hours. The Alzheimer Society of Canada ( www.alzheimer.ca /en/on ) offers practical resources about living with dementia, including information on tracking devices and other strategies to help keep loved ones safe.

As dementia reverses roles in families everywhere, Father’s Day is a reminder that there are things we can do to help dad when he can’t help himself like he used to.  And isn’t this one of the best Father’s Day gifts you can give?

Steve Maxwell has created thousands of home improvement articles and videos on his website at BaileyLineRoad.com. Join 27,000+ people who look forward to his email newsletter every Saturday morning.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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