In the days leading up to Memorial Day, I found myself reflecting on the true meaning of the day.
Memorial Day is commemorated differently. To some it is simply the beginning of summer and an opportunity to gather with friends and family around a BBQ , a beach or park. To others it’s a time to be particularly grateful and honor those who have fought for country and freedom, paying the ultimate price.
I found myself thinking how fragile life is and how for veterans it must be a very personal time to think of friends and shipmates that have gone by, that were lost. It then hit me how fewer and fewer World War II and the Korean War veterans are left and how, because of the current war on terrorism, there now are also young faces of men and women added on a daily bases to our collective memory of those who have fallen.
One common thread seemed to repeat as I watched veterans and civilians alike line up across the nation to pay homage to heroes: Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who are no longer here, a time of memories replayed loud and clear and in full in our minds. Suddenly I was gripped by a sadness as I wondered how many of those faces maybe slowly suffering from yet another loss in front of my eyes, a loss of exactly those special life shaping memories. How many of these valiant veterans this time next year might not even remember enough to commemorate Memorial Day?
My local involvement with the Institute for Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders (UCI MIND) at the University of California, Irvine (www.mind.uci.edu) and the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) this year have helped me start to understand more the disorders of the brain, particularly those that are age-related.
5.3 million people have Alzheimer’s. It’s the 7th leading cause of death in the United States and it has an annual health care cost of 172 billion dollars! From 2000-2006, Alzheimer’s disease deaths increased 46.1 percent, while other selected causes of death (Breast and Prostate Cancer, Heart Disease, Stroke, and HIV) decreased.
The time I have spent involved with these amazing and pioneering organizations came to the forefront of my mind on Memorial Day weekend as I asked myself a few questions regarding how I can, in my professional capacity, perhaps assist those suffering from memory loss through proper design and home modifications. This becomes especially important in the case where an Alzheimer’s diagnosed loved one remains and is being cared for at home.
Keep in mind that each person suffering from Alzheimer’s is unique in both their stage of the disease and how it unfolds in their specific circumstance. As such, each case may require its own personalized approach when it comes to adaptations intended to help ensure safety and independence.
Apart from some of the aging in place suggestions made in previous articles, there are many things that can be done though the main ones that applies here revolves around Safety. Here are some simple things that can be done immediately:
- Place decals on glass patio doors to help prevent them from walking into the glass
- Lock up medications, matches, razors, lighters, household cleaners and detergents to avoid accidental poisoning or overdosing
- “Accident-proof” your fridge, cabinets and closets
- Eliminate all furniture with straight or sharp corners or attach corner pads to them
- Maintain a consistent furniture layout in the rooms to help avoid disorientation anxiety and agitation due to changes in environment
- Consistency in all things provides a sense of safety; change on the other hand can be traumatic
- Use plastic covers for your seating to allow for quick cleaning in case of incontinence, or replace your upholstery with one specific for dealing with this possibility
- Hang clocks in easy to see areas around the house to help loved ones orient themselves during the day to the passing of time and what time it is
- Use visual aids like pictures and creative signs to help them associate with areas, functions and objects around the home
- Avoid using shiny, reflective or flickering objects since they cause confusion and depth perception problems
- Remove items that look like fake food, such as food or fruit shaped magnets on fridges
- Use sturdy plastic plates to help avoid breakage and wipe able table clothes for ease of cleaning
- Plan your meal / food selections so as to allow your loved one ease of independent, safe eating
- Make sure your trash can has a lid or is in a lockable cabinet to deter dumpster diving. This also helps avoid having loved ones throw away something valuable by mistake
- Consider removing the dials on the stove or installing stove knob covers to avoid your loved one turning it on and starting a fire or burning themselves
- Lower the hot water temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees to prevent scalding injuries
- Hide car keys to avoid your loved one going for a ride and consider a hide-a-key in case your loved one locks you out of the home
- Seal off outlets and plugs to avoid electrocution
- Keep fire extinguishers handy in every room
- Don’t leave lying around items like coffee makers toasters, space heaters that can be a danger to touch
- Post in a clear place important information like doctors, 911 emergency, local police, fire and ambulance numbers in case you are not around. Other family members or even neighbors may need to intervene and call for help. Ideally this should be near a main easy to find telephone.
These are but a few things we can start to do to better care for loved ones suffering from memory impairment and Alzheimer’s–all the while working hard towards a cure for this debilitating and fatal disease.
Remember, memory loss that disrupts daily life is not a typical part of aging and slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning skills can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s. (Go to www.alz.org to learn about the 10 Signs of Alzheimer’s )
So as Memorial Day weekend comes to a close and as we are enjoying that last hot dog or burger around the BBQ, let us make a mental note to educate ourselves about this disease and commit ourselves to helping find a cure for it. After all, it is our precious and priceless memories and our lives that are at stake.
About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments. He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.