Is it safe to leave a parent with Alzheimer's home alone?

26 answers | Last updated: Dec 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

I have a part-time job and I've started caring for my otherwise-healthy dad, who's 80 and has early-stage Alzheimer's. Is it OK for me to leave him home alone?


Expert Answers

Depending on the type of dementia your father has and the severity of his impairment, he might be quite safe at home on his own for a long time to come. The problems faced by people with Alzheimer's disease are usually with memory, so your dad is likely to function quite well if he's in a familiar setting with an established routine and a system of reminders. That's different from, say, fronto-temporal dementia, which causes impairments in judgment and insight, potentially making it more difficult for the person to make safe decisions when left by himself.

You might want to talk to your father's doctor or an eldercare counselor about having a community agency determine what in-home supports your father might benefit from. In addition, an occupational therapist can assess your father's areas of strength and weakness in managing daily activities and suggest strategies or products that will help him remain independent as long as possible.

Many products are now available that promote safety and independence for people with memory problems, including automatic stove-top fire extinguishers, lifeline-type medical-alert services, and telephones that dial family members when the button with their picture on it is pressed.

If you have any concerns about your dad wandering or getting lost, register with the Safe Return Program, a government-funded identification program run through local Alzheimer's Association chapters. Getting your dad a cell phone can promote independence and keep him in touch with you, but bear in mind that understanding a new technology may be too challenging for some individuals.

Ultimately, it's up to you to continually assess the balance between maintaining your father's independence and ensuring his safety.


Community Answers

Tklaiber answered...

My mother stays alone but I spend several hours each day "visiting" her to check on safety issues, make sure she has taken her pills properly, check mail and financial issues. Then I call her around dinner time and tell her I am having dinner & what is she having [remind her to eat] and again later to make sure she has tucked herself in for tv and bed. Thus I do keep tabs at different times of the day. So far this is working for us.


Charlotte alig answered...

I have to leave my hubby alone too, sometimes the whole day. He is still in the early stages though, so except for my fear of his cooking, it seems ok. I do leave notes though...Don't turn on the stove, lunch in is the yellow container, put in microwave for 3 minutes. Then while gone, I call several times to check up...would rush home if he did not answer, unless it was time that he takes the dogs for a walk. I know that in the fuure though, I may even worry when home and he goes to walk the dogs....Charlotte


Beatbreastcancer answered...

My mom is in mid-stage Alzheimer's, and we (5 children living near) take turns being with her and helping her at her senior apt. With regards to stoves, hers is electric, so unless one of us is cooking on it, we turn it off at the circuit box. This has worked out well, as there have been a couple of times when she's obviously tried to cook or heat something on the stove. We leave her sandwiches for her nighttime meal, and cook her breakfast and lunch; she has macular degeneration and is legally blind, arthritis and a host of other physical problems, so we can get away with some things because she simply doesn't see or notice what we're doing. Keep your chin up and let your dad do what he can, but be prepared to make changes when necessary. God bless you both.


Lindasd answered...

My mom has stage 2 Alzheimer's which moved into less time left alone. Early stages she was ok. Eventually over many years, she will not eat on her own (choices in frig confuse her), I turn off the stove at the circuit breaker after she put something on and walked away letting it boil dry. I have lock up all medications when she started taking extra and inappropriate medications. She leaves water in sinks running and overflowed the toilet several times.

Early stage was easy and I left her alone for my full time job. When she moved into second stage and getting worse,I now only leave her for the hour I do grocery shopping and have to quit my job. I'm sure this will end if she starts to wander.

Good luck with your caregiving.


Arnick answered...

I think that we all share some of the same situations,if we are not dealing with them now,we probably will in the future. I think it is ok to leave them if they are safe. I care for my mom and so far she doesn't wander. There are times that I leave her for 2-6 hours at a time,the problem is she will sit too long,forget to eat,forget to go to the bathroom in time, most of the time she will not answer the phone. If she answers the phone she will not remember what they said or who it was,this is a source of frustration for me. If I call to check on her she may or may not answer the phone. If she answers and I need her to do something,I have to stay on the phone until she is up and moving She may or may not actually do it.She has so much pain and that keeps her from moving around alot. When I have to leave early I fix her breakfast and she warms it in the microwave. She doesn't try to cook on the stove. ( good idea about turning off the breaker to the stove) I do worry about her answering the door,she will not most of the time. The best that we can do is keep them as safe as possible,without isolating ourselves. And keep the lines of communication open, Caring.Com gives me a chance to vent to people who understand where I am coming from. Thanks!!!!!!!!!


Cheerio answered...

I am one of four siblings who care for our mom. My brother moved back home which is a blessing. We all take turns staying with her. She is confused about her home and wanders. She has lived here for 39 years but believes her home is two blocks away. We used to leave her for some periods of time during the day until she started to walk trying to get back home. We have contacted our local prosecutors office, Project Lifesaver. They have fitted her with a tracking device that can be used in 46 states to locate her if she wanders. We have also installed a home security system on the house. It is not hooked up to the police but will contact the four of us when the door is opened. So far this has worked pretty well. If we leave her for a short time we put the alarm on and place a large sign on the door to tell her that the alarm is on and not to open the door, that we will be right back.

I appreciate everyones imput to this website. I have gotten alot of helpful ideas and look forward to more in the future.


A fellow caregiver answered...

There is no perfect solution but one potential solution that can help is new technology that is now available. You can check out www.i-tag.biz where they have a GPS device that can help to give some "peace of mind" while you are away.


Lindasd answered...

Not to get off topic, but to address locator devices. There are many different kinds of devices on the market to track people, and some through the police that are used to find someone once they wander. Some use a worn gps device; some have large investment in equipment and monthly monitoring fees. If you have known anyone who wanders from Alzheimer's you know that it happens quickly and they are very difficult to find. You also know that even nursing homes that use patient monitoring devices have trouble keeping patients from wandering and then finding them.

Do your research. None are a good answer but may work in each person's situations. GPS is spotty at pinpointing exact locations (not show they went out the door but a general location). There is a lot of information on the internet to get you informed.

See the Alzheimer's Organization for wandering tips and monitoring system, also bracelets for Medic Alert Safe Return. Safe Return gives a bracelet for the caregiver identifying them as a caregiver so if they get hurt there is information that someone (their patient) needs immediate care also. http://www.alz.org/safetycenter/we_can_help_safety_center.asp

There is also a community based device - see this site: http://www.projectlifesaver.org/ This is a locator device used to track a bracelet on the person, if the person is lost- a tracking device. This is another interesting idea to promote in communities.

Hope this helps. Sorry to stray from postings. Linda


Victorymoon answered...

Thank You All... My mum is experiencing so many of these things and I am just now understanding what is going on. No doctor has diagnosed dementia, yet, all the signs are there. The stove circut breaker is a good idea, she has already melted plastic in the oven. Not sure what to do about the water, she has overflowed the sink more than once. She has now begun to fall; she will tell me now, yet, does not want to admit to it being an issue. So much to learn and understand and no other family member gives support except to listen and tell me what else I "need to do". Getting tired of talking to them and hearing more to do things and meanwhile they continue with their own lives. Sorry for the vent, yet thanks.


Carebear4him answered...

Sadly there is no one size fits all answer. My husband had one wandering incident and that was it. I no longer leave him alone and the doctor agrees. You have to trust your own instincts on this one. If your loved changes gears quickly perhaps best not to leave alone.if infact they are just at the earliest stage and have never wandered or had an hallutionation then it is probably OK for "brief periods". TRUST YOUR GUT!


Always something answered...

My mother has Dementia. We just saw an neurologist and haven't gotten the results yet. I think she is probably in her early second stage. Something I didn't put together was, you might tell them take their meds. at 6:00 but they minght have forgotten what 6:00 looks like and so forth. I feel as if I'm raising my first child, only backwards. When I think of it that way it sometimes helps me to quess the next step, sometimes. It also helps me to remember most of the time, you must have patience.


Cmacp answered...

My hubby had a construction accident 3 yrs ago when he was 55. He now has TBI induced Alzheimer's. Most people on this forum are caring for older parents. I'm caring for a spouse who should be in the prime of life. Last yr he was diagnosed as being early A. Sept 2009, he was hospitalized for 3 mos and diagnosed as mid stage A. I appreciate the sug. for cutting the breaker off to the stove. I am his sole caregiver and often have to leave him to grocery shop. We expect our parents to age and need help. There is a unique heartache when it is a husband or child who is suffering. It catches us unaware and interrupts our dreams for the future. I appreciate this web site.


Cmacp answered...

LindaSD; What is it about the toilet overflowing?? My 58 yr old stage 2 A hubby stops up the toilet daily? I can' figure it out. I've changed toilet paper brands. It never appens t me . Wh does your mother over flow the toilet?


Jyth answered...

Hello cmacp, I relate to your comment that most folks on this blog are caring for parents, but I am also caring for my husband. He is getting ready to retire and would have a few years ago but got away with it since he owns his business and his one employee watches over him. He will be home by the end of the year and I also feel it won't be safe to leave him home alone. Right now he does repairs but does them wrong...if I'm not here to stop him I'm afraid of what I'll come home to. He also leaves water running and forgets the stove. Fortunately he is not home without me very often. I'm thinking I'll need to take early retirement which is a huge financial issue. There are so many pieces to every issue around caretaking for an alz spouse. My prayers are with all of you as I know now and will know more in the future what we are all dealing with.


Daug-in-law answered...

Not all Alzheimer's patients wander, so as others have said, 'trust your gut feelings' about whether to leave them alone. My Mom-in-law actually 'self-regulates' any propensity to wander. She simply kept reducing her distance in any travels, making her circle smaller and smaller. Now that she is in a nursing home, it took her a while to learn where the dining room was, and now that the weather is nice, has increased her circle to go outside in the gardens. Even though she lives in a small city that she was very familiar with, she is reluctant to venture off the nursing home property. As an aside, a lot of people tend to think of losing their independence when going to a nursing home. To the contrary, we have found that Mom has regained some independence. The staff respect her privacy when she is in her room with the door closed and knock before coming in. If she had stayed in the house, a caregiver would always be there hovering. Further, my mom-in-law did not want to be a burden on us and while she was upset at first about being in a personal care home (we live in another city 3 hours away), she is fine with our weekly visits and understood when we took a recent 3 week vacation overseas. Surprisingly, she is also happy that her house has been sold to a young family. She spent a lot of time worrying (obsessing)about minor maintenance issues, such as a burnt out light bulb, but now is happy she doesn't have to worry about such things.


A fellow caregiver answered...

My mom is maybe in the second stage of dementia. She is pretty good in the mornings, but at "sundown" she forgets where she is and asks a lot of repeated questions. But like Victorymoon, my relatives tell everyone how much they help take care of her, but really, I am living with her for 12 months of the year and they basically take her a total of 2-3 months for the whole year. They do not work and my brother is a hunter, fishermen, bowler, etc. and can't take time out from these activities. This isn't my sisterinlaws mother, so I can't fault her. But it does gets pretty frustrating because when it's my turn to do some activity, they always have something else to do. My friends have stopped asking me out or to dinner. I know this isn't the place to vent this frustration, but I feel like I'm really "stuck".


Caregiving wife answered...

Anonymous says "this isn't the place to vent this frustration..." This is EXACTLY the place to vent! :) You're among friends here who know what you're going through and understand the challenges and frustrations and heartaches. If we couldn't vent here, I think most of us would have exploded by now. This is a safe outlet to use whenever needed, so vent until you let off enough steam to pick yourself back up and continue.


Caregiving wife answered...

... and in answer to leaving the loved one home alone, my husband was ok at home alone for the first few years, but as others have said, there came a time when I knew in my gut that he had reached the stage of needing someone around. So last January he started attending an adult day care and in June we added an in-home companion each day for two hours. This allows me to concentrate on my job instead of worrying all day about his safety. An extra benefit is that he's not sitting home alone just watching TV. There are friends and activities and wonderful meals. But most of all, HE'S SAFE.


Jimsdoc answered...

Hi-if your dad can still use the phone, it may still be possible to leave him alone. Best wishes.


Julianaleo answered...

Venting is normal, necessary, releases toxins - High Five on that one!

How about crying? I probably have not had a day go by, where I break down due to frustration, anger, "why me!?", and how come all those people who tell me they will help, are nowhere to be found! I have almost begged some folks for assistance. ADD to this dilemma - my mother is a pathological hoarder. And unfortunately, since her mind isn't motivated to do anything, she stays home. While I have moved in with her (she thinks I'm only visiting)...she is now in the hospital due to neglect of her teeth, which led to her getting bacteria in her knee replacements. (ahhhh, there is a blessing to this story). She is now in Rehab for two weeks - while I frantically try to figure out how to clear a room, so I can put a bed in there, and begin living normally among the crazies. I have done all I can to get assistance - doctors, social workers, nurses, friends....and on the percentage scale - have probably gotten about 10% to help me.

I have to say, I'm pissed off that there is limited assistance - limited time to do something that can help me function normally - more red tape than I can handle - and I'm so getting overwhelmed, I can't even begin to think where to get help, than from those Professionals I've already asked help from.

Frantic in Cape May NJ - (What a place - Great for Vacations - Lousy when it comes to the health care system)


Bobbi henderson answered...

You should be very careful leaving a person with alzheimer's alone after the first few years. My mother had alzheimer's and she was very sneaky. She would talk and act like nothing was wrong...but I found that when I left her alone she became daring and did things that she knew I would disapprove of...like going into the renter's private drawers and getting out the razor and shaving her arms. She started going out on the porch...The renter started missing things (his razor)...and one day I came back from the grocery store...she was cutting up some of her clothes (she used to sew clothes for us when we were were small) She had a huge pair of scissors that looked like a weapon...they were ones that she had when I was a child and somehow she hid them in her luggage, spent a year in the nursing home and came to live with me and none of us were the wiser. She had those scissors all those years. I had looked through her stuff many times...don't know how she hid them but she did. I finally had to not let her spend anytime alone because she would cut her hair, eyebrows, etc. finally...she got to where She liked to clean her room all the time and change her clothes to get ready to meet her imaginary friends who lived in the mirrors. I was forced to leave her alone for a few minutes sometimes up to a half and hour. I tried to do it while she took her nap. I am thankful... Lucky for me nothing bad ever happened but I say don't press your luck. My mother was actually very good and I had quite a learning experience. I am much wiser now!! All the best!


Julie grey answered...

Hi Im not actually sure what stage of Dementia/Alt my mum is at ,havnt had a definate diagnosis she is incontinent and a recent TIA has left her nearly blind,Im her primary carer I dont have siblings I do have husband and 5 children I am getting home help so on Friday I will have half a day free from 9am-1pm,the public health nurses are great always at the other end of the line I also got a hospital bed from the health board which is a great help really easy to clean,its difficult to keep her happy she is restless and dosnt like to stay anywhere too long,its sad to see this happening,I have filled in the forms for nursing home care to cover myself for the future in case I wont be able to cope anymore right at this moment that isint an issue but it could be!


Kathicares answered...

At some point it is unsafe and illegal to leave a person with any type of demtia home alone.Ask "John if the house was on fire what would you do?" the response will help decide.


A fellow caregiver answered...

Why is it so mentally draining to take care of someone with Dementia? The person ask the same question every day all day and if I don't answer they will ask again in a loud voice. I have them to be sneaky and lying at times and then they had the nerve once when I asked them to sit down to keep from burning themselves they told their roommate and then stayed along for 3 days angry.


Everams answered...

Sadly, there's no blanket answer to your question. Whether or not your dad can still be alone depends on a lot of different factors. I can tell you that about a third of seniors with dementia live alone around the time of their diagnosis, so there are certainly adults with dementia that continue to live in their own homes alone. That's not to say that there aren't concerns. When I hear about someone with dementia living alone, I become concerned about how well they take care of themselves. Living alone increases their risk of malnutrition, so it may be good to check that he is eating healthily when you are not there. I would also consider his behaviors and routines before leaving him alone. For example, I've known smokers with dementia that mistake other items as cigarettes, risking starting a fire in their home. You may also want to think about his mobility. If he wants to get something from across the room, is he able to get it himself, or is he likely to fall? I don't mean to worry you any more than you might already be for you dad! It's just that each individual with dementia truly is an individual, so there's no universal answer.