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Living Alone with Early-Stage Dementia

Many people with early-stage dementia can manage living alone. But without adequate precaution, this can be difficult even at the best of times, and the COVID – 19 pandemic makes the situation harder.

If a patient is convinced that he or she can live alone, caregivers need to check frequently on their loved one to make sure they have an adequate supply of food and medical necessities as well as an understanding of ways to get help. Additionally, evaluating their home for ways to make it safer will make it easier. Here, from the National Institute of Aging (NIA), are tips to increase safety, both for someone living alone, or in your house if you and the patient decide it is best for them to live with you. NIA recommends making these changes in the house to increase safety:

Get rid of unused items and extra furniture. If there are things that are no longer used (such as clothing, appliances, decorations, and furniture) and are filling up the home, now is the time to remove them. Be sure to contact organizations ahead of time to see if they can arrange a pickup.

Remove throw rugs. Move electrical cords and other things the person might trip over. Falls can cause injury and disability and make living alone hard. For more fall prevention tips, such as using handrails, read Fall-Proofing Your Home.

Have a daily calendar of tasks and appointments to help manage everyday activities.

Install an automatic shut-off switch on the stove. If necessary, disable the stove. Instead, use a microwave or electric device with an automatic shut-off, such as a slow cooker or rice cooker, to heat food.

Consider safety devices. These include fall monitors, emergency call buttons, and GPS tracking systems. As a caregiver, you can help the person buy the right device and set it up. Medical ID bracelets and necklaces are helpful in case you get lost or need help. The patient may also join the MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return program (1-800-432-5378). This is an emergency response system for people with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia.

Make sure smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in or near the kitchen and all bedrooms. Check that the batteries are working. Set reminders to check the batteries every six months.

Many people with early-stage dementia continue to manage their everyday activities. But it’s important to look ahead to a time when performing daily tasks will be harder. The sooner your loved one adopts new strategies to help her cope with changes, the more time you yourself will have to adjust to them.

Here are some tips for patients:

Have a daily schedule or outline. Write down to-do lists, appointments, and events in a notebook or calendar. Some people have an area, such as an entryway table or bench, where they store important items they need each day.

Make paying bills easier.  Setting up automated payments is an easy way to pay correctly and on time without having to write checks. Talk with your utility providers, insurance companies, and mortgage company or leasing office about automatic bill payment. A caregiver or a trustworthy friend or family member can help set up bill payments and review financial statements to make sure there are no irregularities.

Shopping for meals. Many stores offer grocery delivery services. You can also order fresh or frozen meals online or by phone. Meals on Wheels America (1-888-998-6325) can deliver free or low-cost meals the home, too, and this service sometimes includes a short visit and safety check. Other possible sources of meals include houses of worship and senior centers. If the patient makes her own meals consider easy-to-prepare items, such as foods that can be heated in the microwave.

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Taking medications. Several products can help manage medications. Consider a weekly pillbox, a pillbox with reminders (like an alarm), a medication dispenser or even an electronic reminder system, such as an alarm on a phone or computer.

Getting around. If a patient drives, she may become confused, get lost, or need increasing help with directions. Make sure the patient’s doctor is aware of these changes. Family and friends need to make sure that the patient listens to their concerns about driving. For non-drivers, other forms of transportation, such as a car service or ride-sharing service, may be available in your area.

To learn about community-based support services, including food and transportation options:

Contact the nationwide Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116). You can also visit their website.

Look on your state government or tribal organization’s website.

Reach out to social service agencies, community centers, and houses of worship.

Preparing for the future may be the last thing you want to think about. But it will be easier to deal with health and finances now rather than later.

Get legal and financial matters in order as soon as possible. Prepare or update a will, living will, healthcare power of attorney, and financial power of attorney Contact the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (1-703-942-5711) to find an attorney. A caretaker should know where important documents are kept, or have a copy herself.

Consider options for in-home care. Family members and friends can often help with everyday activities. But caretakers and patients who want to stay at home need to look into options for a personal care assistant or home health care aide and their costs. For example, Medicaid recipients may qualify for a home health care aide, Medicare covers limited home services for people who cannot leave their homes, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs may provide at-home care for some veterans. For more information on in-home care, read What Is Long-Term Care? and Paying for Care.

If the patient works, . You could share your diagnosis with your employer and discuss how to adjust your work. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers with more than 15 employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities. This might include changing your hours, getting reminders, or splitting up large tasks. Read Alzheimer’s and Employment from the BrightFocus Foundation for more information. If you are no longer able to work because of your condition, you may be eligible for disability income through private disability insurance (if you purchased this previously), Social Security, or veterans’ benefits. A Social Security program called Compassionate Allowances ensures quick review of disability claims for people with conditions including early-onset Alzheimer’s, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, and some other types of dementia.

For more information on aging issues, click here to visit the NIA’s website.

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