Is It Safe to Leave a Person with Dementia Alone?

People with dementia become increasingly unable to take care of themselves as their disease advances. However, the disease progresses differently in every person.  As a caregiver, you face the ongoing challenge of adapting to each change in your loved one’s behavior and functioning.

While there are no hard-and-fast rules on the issue, the National Institutes on Health and the National Institute on Aging both suggest taking into account the behavioral traits of the person with dementia, such as does he/she:

  • Become confused or unpredictable under stress?
  • Recognize a dangerous situation, such as fire?
  • Know how to use the telephone in an emergency?
  • Know how to get help?
  • Stay content within the home?
  • Show signs of agitation, depression, or withdrawal when left alone for any period of time?
  • Attempt to pursue former interests or hobbies that might now warrant supervision, such as cooking, appliance repair, or woodworking?

A study by the University of Michigan Geriatrics Center also notes that as the dementia progresses, these questions will need ongoing evaluation.  Seeking the input and advice from a health care professional can assist you in making that decision.

Wandering and getting lost is another major issue that develops with dementia, and should be a cause for concern. The National Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander and become lost, and it can happen at any stage of the disease. Signs of wandering behavior include:

  • Forgetting how to get to familiar places;
  • Coming back from a regular walk or drive later than usual;
  • Talking about fulfilling former obligations, like going to work;
  • Trying or wanting to “go home,” even when at home.
  • Restlessness, pacing, or performing repetitive movements;
  • Having a hard time locating familiar places such as the bathroom, bedroom, or dining room.

The National Institute on Aging suggests considering the following principles to help keep your loved one safe, no matter where they are in their aging journey:

  1. Think prevention. It is very difficult to predict what a person with dementia might do. Just because something has not yet occurred does not mean it should not be cause for concern. Even with the best-laid plans, accidents can happen. Therefore, checking the safety of your home will help you take control of some of the potential problems that may create hazardous situations.
  2. Adapt the environment. It is more effective to change the environment than to change most behaviors. While some dementia behaviors can be managed with special medications prescribed by a doctor, many cannot. You can make changes in an environment to decrease the hazards and stressors that accompany these behavioral and functional changes.
  3. Minimize danger. By minimizing danger, you can maximize independence. A safe environment can be a less restrictive environment where the person with dementia disease can experience increased security and more mobility.

For more information, download the free National Institute on Health dementia home safety booklet:

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