That’s Not Safe! – How Dementia Changes a Person’s Safety Awareness and What We Can Do to Help
by Christine Browdy, PAC Product Development, and
Dan Bulgarelli, PAC Team Member
The kitchen is the best room in the house for many people. It’s a place to create memories as well as food. It’s a gathering place as much as it is a functional space. Depending on how much we do in the kitchen, we may have many gadgets, appliances, and tools. We may want many of these at our fingertips, but also don’t want spaces to be cluttered. Finding that balance can be tough.
Have you ever gone over to someone else’s house, gone into their kitchen and thought Well, that’s interesting? It’s not how I would have it, but so be it. Maybe you saw a gadget or appliance that looked different from what you were used to, so you wanted to investigate that more.
When dementia is present, the kitchen remains a functional, and curiosity inspiring space, but it can also lead to some danger. As dementia progresses, a person’s object-use understanding can change. While trying to figure it out, there might be some uh-ohs along the way. Let’s look at why that is, and just as importantly, some changes we can make to increase safety while maintaining that function.
We invite you to watch this short YouTube clip that illustrates some of the potential challenges that may show up in the kitchen:
Technology is ever changing, and while some appliances or gadgets look and operate as they have for years, others require a little exploration. Think about a time you came across a new or different version of a familiar appliance. For example, a toaster. Perhaps the toaster image you have in your mind is similar to this one? Places for two slices of bread and a lever on the side to push down the bread for it to be toasted. One version of a modern-day toaster might be a toaster oven or something slightly different like a sandwich press. When you add object-use recognition difficulties into the mix, how do those items compare, visually, to something that isn’t food related, perhaps like a CD player? How might someone get these gadgets slightly mixed up?
Here are two quick tips that can be done right now to decrease potential dangers in the kitchen:
Unplug electrical kitchen tools: Kitchen tools such as a toaster, toaster oven, coffee maker, as well as many others, are designed to be easy to use. They might be able to be turned on or heated up by pushing one button or switch. By keeping them unplugged, you give yourself a little extra time if you need to provide some assistance.
Eliminate distractions: Removing any extra items that are sitting on the kitchen counter will allow for a cleaner space and help someone trying to identify a certain item and its intended use.
Let’s move from the kitchen to the bathroom for a moment. What kind of brushes might you find in a bathroom? Toothbrush, hairbrush, toilet brush, and maybe something else? Now think of how you would describe the toothbrush. Well, it has a handle, maybe a rubber grip on one end, and bristles on the other end. Wouldn’t that same description be used for all of those brushes? Here’s where it gets tricky. Around the middle states/stages of dementia, the mind often has trouble determining the intended use for an object. What happens if someone were to use any of those brushes to do the task intended for another? Uh-oh would probably be an appropriate response.
What other rooms in the house do you think could have potential challenges? Why do you think that navigating those rooms might be challenging? When have you noticed someone you know trying to figure out a tool or a task in one of those rooms? What was your first response when you noticed the person in there? There isn’t one answer for everyone, but there are some things we can all do. So, how can we set someone up for success and decrease the chance of potential risks?
If you are interested in learning more, here are a few more resources: