Knowledge For Caregivers

First Steps with Dementia: Safety

Episode Summary

This is the first of a series of episodes that deals with what are some first steps family members should take to assist someone with dementia. This episode focuses on safety.

Episode Transcription

first steps final

Mon, Feb 20, 2023 4:31PM • 11:45


dementia, mild dementia, check, stay, driving, problems, live, food, safety, people, memory loss, loved ones, safe, family members, stranger, cameras, informational purposes, home, progressive disease, bracelet


Katherine Cocks


Katherine Cocks00:02

Hi, my name is Kathy. I've been a geriatric nurse for over 10 years. Many times when I would meet with family members of aged loved ones, they didn't always know what to do. I started this podcast knowledge for caregivers, to assist them with practical suggestions as they assist their own loved ones age with dignity and grace. I want to welcome you back to the episode. I'm trying to get back on track here getting over COVID. But you heard about in my last episode, if you have not go back and check on that, I am going to be doing a series of topics. And this one's going to be called first steps with dementia, when you start noticing someone having memory problems, and I always recommend that you go to your primary care doctor and get a checkup. If you have to write things down or let the nurse know what is going on, because it may not always be something that is like Alzheimer's.  I've heard of people having memory loss, and they found a brain tumor, or they found fluid on the brain. So it's always a good idea to always get checked out. So you know what you are dealing with. And that will be discussed in another time. So this is going to be a time where you're like, Okay, our loved one has dementia. We've noticed the memory loss, we've noticed that there's some challenges. And we've already gotten a diagnosis. Now what should we do?  Now we need to start making a plan. A lot of people don't realize that when it comes to dealing with dementia, a loved one may be dealing or helping a person with dementia for over 10 years. And there will be many phases and many challenges throughout that time. So this is just going to talk about first steps. And then later on, we might talk about different challenges. But I don't want to just focus on dementia because there are other challenges that older people are having.  The first thing that I think we always need to do when someone starts to have signs of dementia after we get them checked out by the doctor is to think about their safety. The reason is, there may be a lot going on, and family members may live out of town. So people may not really know what is exactly going on. When I'm talking about safety, it can involve many different aspects. Of course, the first one that I usually think about is driving, how safe is their driving? Do you need to get in the car with them.  Look for dents or frequent accidents? Can they maybe drive down to the local grocery store, which is literally two minutes away, get their stuff and come back home? You may deem that that is safe. Driving is always going to be an emotional issue. If someone is insisting on to continuing to drive that is not for this discussion is to find out are they safe driving, I would definitely recommend if someone's just driving those short distances, you determine that it is safe and they only go down to the store and back to still put a GPS tracking device on their car. The reason I say this is that people have been known to get confused, driving to the store, drive somewhere else get lost start walking across a field. And you will see then all of a sudden these silver alerts that come out on the highways. So always maybe have a way to check on your loved one. If they do get confused.  The second thing you want to look at are things like cooking, go in there and see Do they have a lot of burnt pans now, all of us have burned things. When we're cooking, we get distracted. We burn something, we cleaned it up, we know kind of what happened. Look and see if they're leaving the stove on things like that. If that's a problem, I've had a lot of family members just turn the stove off. And then they have food that they can heat up in the microwave. That way they're not going to burn down the house or do something like that. Look in their refrigerator. Is it stacked full of old food? Are they eating old food? Are they frequently getting stomach bugs where they're having poisoning? Do they not have any food? Sometimes what happens with people with mild dementia? They don't know where to look for food so they just look for whatever is on the counter. So if they see a box of crackers, that's what they're going to eat when they get hungry. And you'll notice that they're just eating crackers and not eating other food in the house. Are they throwing away food? So it may be that they forget to throw away food. So simply you just need to come in and throw away food and make sure they are eating something besides just crackers.  Do they go off with strangers? I had a family member they called us in to help out because they had cameras. And a gentleman had mowed the lady's yard or said he had showed up and said, Hey, you owe me $100. She goes, Well, I don't have any cash. She goes, I'll take you to the bank. So she got in the car with a stranger went to the bank got the money came back. Thankfully, she was safe and just out $100. But it could have definitely been a lot worse. So if you think your loved ones just gonna walk out with a stranger because they say, Hey, take me to the bank, then you definitely need to reevaluate their living condition.How are they managing their checkbook? Now, this isn't a safety as far as a physical issue. But you want to protect their money and their assets, because that's going to be needed for their care. And one of the problems with someone who has a mild dementia, if they voluntarily give money to someone, it's very hard to prosecute them and get that money back and say that they were scammed. Yeah, we can say they had dementia. But the person can always say, Well, I didn't know they had dementia, they were willing to give me checkbooks.  Home Safety, looking for things like are they leaving food out, you don't know how many houses I go to where people don't remember how to clean their dishes, or they can't get in there and clean their dishes. And all of a sudden, you're attracting things like cockroaches and rats. Some of these are very nice homes I go into I had a lady and I was sitting there and she goes, yeah, we've been having a problem with mice, we're trying to get rid of them. And right then a mice ran across the floor. And I was trying not to get freaked out by that. So that's something to really check out because those infestations are hard to get rid of. And they can definitely bring problems as far as hygiene.  Another thing to look at medication, are they taking their medicine safely? Do they have stacks and stacks of old medicine, which is okay, so um, don't want to get rid of it. But are they taking their medicine correctly when they need to take it, instead of having this stockpile of medicine that they're going and reaching for, and they don't always know what they're taking, or they forget what they're taking? How can you check on this, maybe they take blood pressure medicine and their blood pressure is always going low, or it's staying really high. Those would be signs that they're not taking their medication properly.All of these assessments that we do determine whether someone can stay in their own place of residence safely, whether they live in their own home, whether they live in an apartment, if they live by themselves. These are the things that we need to check for. Sometimes people can live by themselves, especially in those early stages of dementia, you can set up calendar so they know what day it is you can set up appointment books, you can work with them. If someone lives alone, and they have mild dementia, I would put up cameras, and the front entrance in the house, things of that nature. Some people will get one of those bracelets or a necklace that they can push a button and say help I fall and I can't get up. One of the reasons people do that, you know is if they fall, and they can push that bracelet and get help. But if they have dementia, they may not remember to do that. So if they have that if I had a way to put up cameras with somebody that had dementia, it is definitely something that I would do is put cameras in the house. It is one of those things that may not be real controversial for them. But you can check and see are they moving around? Are they eating? Are they getting dressed properly? Are they getting showered? Those types of things? The other thing is you may say, well, they have a spouse or a partner they live with. That doesn't mean we still don't check for safety for both of them. Is that partner not getting any sleep? Are they not going to the doctor appointments? Are they not managing their own health needs emotional, physical, whatever. And then you're now going to have two people with chronic illness instead of just one. This is a long progressive disease. A lot of people said well, Dad doesn't want to move or dad doesn't want to do this. I understand those are difficult conversations, decisions, emotional decisions. And I'm going to discuss some of those options in other episodes if they need to move. The first thing is just to find out can they safely stay home and this may take several months to evaluate. It may be a good idea to get a communication going with other stakeholders that means  siblings or spouses in the process of this. And remember the person who has dementia, you're not going to be able to sit down and say, Dad, it's not safe for you to stay home anymore because you keep leaving, the water running. And if you're running all the floors, he doesn't remember doing that. So remember that you need to be able to approach them in the world that they're living in, and they may think I can take care of myself, and you better stay out of my business. But we're going to discuss some of these other first steps of somebody with a dementia diagnosis and what we can do to stay safe.  So again, evaluate your loved one for safety. And then that will let you know if you need to make a decision about where they're going to live. Thank you for going on this caregiving journey with me as it is my passion to help individuals navigate this successfully so that they can still have a meaningful life. I hope you have enjoyed this podcast. If you have found it helpful, then share it. If you wish to contact me for consulting services, you can reach me at and Kathy's is spelled K athy s. Remember, all content is meant for informational purposes only, and not to replace the advice of healthcare professionals.