Dangers of Living Alone with Early Stage Dementia

Advice For Caregivers

early stage dementia

People living with early stage dementia can live at home independently for a time, with the right support.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports that nearly 6 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s disease. The World Health Organization takes the reporting to a global scale, noting that 50 million people are living with some type of dementia throughout the world. Many people living with early stage dementia are not included in these numbers, as they haven’t been diagnosed yet. What does all of this mean? It means that you likely already know someone who is living with dementia, or who has a loved one living with some type of cognitive decline

For many family members, discovering that a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia is life-changing. Beyond the grief and shock that happens upon initial diagnosis, family members are also suddenly met with an unknown future, making planning for their loved one’s safety and security more difficult.

Fortunately, dementia is being diagnosed earlier in the disease process thanks to better diagnostic protocol. Earlier diagnosing means that older adults are able to take part in their own future planning during the early stages of the disease. However, early diagnosing can also give family members a false sense of security, making them think they have more time to put safety plans into place.

What Is Early Stage Dementia?

Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, is a progressive cognitive decline. This means that there are general stages to the condition ranging from early stages to later ones. In the early stage of dementia, the person is forgetful and can become disoriented easily. However, they are not typically very confused throughout the day. This means they can carry on “normal” daily activities the majority of the time. 

What Are the Safety Concerns of Living At Home Alone?

early stage dementia

Keeping up with bills can be quite frustrating for someone living with early stage dementia.

People living in the early stages of dementia can live at home alone with a few supports in place. However, it is important to note that there are still serious dangers that can come with living at home and also living with cognitive decline.

Inability to keep up with bills.

Certain homeowner tasks, like remembering to pay the bills on time, can become overwhelming, frustrating, and nearly impossible for someone living with early stage dementia. Consider working with your loved one to put their bills on auto-pay, or to designate a family member who can assist with paying bills on their behalf each month.

Decreased socialization.

Believe it or not, seeing friends and family on a daily basis can help slow down the progress of dementia. However, people in the early stage of the disease are also more likely to be self-conscious about their forgetfulness and can end up choosing to skip out on family dinners or get-togethers with friends, causing them to become isolated quickly. With isolation comes the risk of speeding up the dementia progression. If your loved one is living at home alone, consider setting up transportation services to get them to and from events, as well as scheduling in family or friends to visit on a regular basis.

Driving difficulties.

People living with early stage memory loss can struggle with driving for a variety of reasons. Distracted or confused driving can be dangerous. While it is difficult to start the conversation about taking driving off the table, it is imperative to do so sooner than later in order to keep your loved one, and the others on the road, as safe as possible.

Nutritional challenges.

When you think about the steps that go into planning and preparing a meal, you can quickly see that it is quite a complex task to make a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. Unfortunately, adults living with dementia can struggle to eat regularly and to make healthy choices. In fact, the thought of preparing three meals per day can seem overwhelming and cause quite a bit of anxiety for those living with the disease. Consider signing up your loved one for home-delivered meal services or rallying family members to bring over meals to stock their freezer a few times per month.

Confusion and risk of becoming lost.

Early stage dementia is tricky because while there is some forgetfulness, there typically are not major episodes of confusion on a regular basis. However, it just takes one scary situation where your loved one suddenly doesn’t recognize familiar streets or landmarks to make everyone in the family feel less secure. Monitor your loved one’s cognitive decline regularly and take any recommendations from the physician seriously. You can also invest in an easy-to-use medical monitoring device that has GPS tracking capabilities in order to always know where your loved one is in case of an emergency.

Increased risk of falling.

Finally, those living with dementia are living with more than just confusion or forgetfulness. They are also at an increased risk for falling, for a variety of reasons that include increased risk of dehydration and vision perception challenges. You can help your loved one stay safe by making their home as fall-averse as possible by making pathways clutter-free. Install grab bars as needed and remove rugs that are not secured to the floor. You can also invest in medical alert systems or devices that detect falls when they happen as well as connect them with trained responders in case of an emergency.

People living with early stage dementia can live at home alone, but family members should put in place a few actions that can increase safety and peace of mind. The right supports and resources can make a big difference in not only increasing safety but also decreasing stress and frustration for your loved one.