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

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 Answer

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.