Should someone with Alzheimer's or Dementia be left alone even for an hour or two?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Should someone with Alzheimer's or Dementia be left alone even for an hour or two? I am having problems with someone that I am a caregiver for a 94 yr old and her daughter leaves her alone for a few hours. I am so dead against it because she has boiled water on the stove and I have found her up before I have been told to get there in the morning.

Expert Answer

Jytte Lokvig, PhD, coaches families and professional caregivers and designs life-enrichment programs and activities for patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementia. Her workshops and seminars help caregivers and families create a healthy environment based on dignity and humor. She is the author of Alzheimer's A to Z: A Quick-Reference Guide.

People in the earlier stages of Alzheimer's and dementia are usually all right on their own as long as they still recognize an emergency and know how to call 911. Right now, your 94 year-old client may be perfectly safe home alone for a few hours, even making herself a cup of tea. "“ On the other hand, she might suddenly get confused, set the potholder on fire and burn down the house.

Every case is different and circumstances can change overnight, even in the best of cases.

Regardless of how capable she appears right now, it would be wise to take precautions to minimize risks. These are things you can do right away: "¢ Remove knobs from the gas stove or install shutoffs for anything electric that could pose a risk. "¢ Keep pathways clear of all furniture (especially low pieces like ottomans or side tables that may be below an elder's line of vision and can thus cause her to trip.) "¢ Remove anything that can cause her to lose her footing: Small area rugs, magazines or newspapers left on the floor.

Store all the following items in locked cabinets: "¢ Lighters and matches "¢ Guns and other weapons "¢ Sharp knives and tools "¢ Alcohol "¢ Medication "¢ Cleaning supplies and other potentially toxic substances (Dishwashing smells appetizing or may sound enticing: "Lemon Joy" looks and sounds like lemonade.)

GENERAL SAFETY: Safety grab bars in the bathroom, by the toilet, over the tub and in the shower. Railings on both sides of a stairway. Adequate lighting Baby gates at the top and bottom of stairs.

Exits and doors: To prevent a person from opening a door, the simplest solution is a "Grip "˜N Twist Door Knob Cover." Doors with lever type handles may have to be secured with locks or hooks up high and out of reach.

Explorers (wanderers) may be discouraged from leaving the house with one or several of these measures: "¢ A big sign on the door: "Do not exit" or "Stop" "¢ A large black or very dark non-skid bath rug in front of the door (looks like a hole in the floor to a person with more advanced dementia.) "¢ A full-length mirror on the door. If none of this works, you can install a motion or pressure activated alarm.
Regardless, make sure the person wears a medical id, engraved with "memory-impaired" and contact information.

Hopefully in the near future you can change your schedule to arrive before the daughter departs, but in the meantime, ask her to take a couple of safety measures: unplug the microwave and remove the knobs from the stove. She can also help by making her mom a cup of tea before she leaves and getting her busy with a purposeful project (i.e. sorting laundry.)