Looking after the elderly can be a bit like looking after young and curious children – you need eyes in the back of your head and the ability to see through walls! Whether the elderly person that you are caring for is mentally or physically disabled, your primary concern is their safety. However, unfortunately for you, this is very rarely their primary concern. Individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, for example, do not have a sense of their own mortality at all. They are mentally incapable of thinking through the dangers of any situation and are neither logical nor reasonable with their thoughts. As a result, you must be concerned about their safety enough for you and them at all times.
Within the home, you should make all of the necessary amenities available to the senior in your care without exposing them to any danger. It is much like baby proofing a room when you have a toddler walking around. The elderly person that you look after may also be into everything if they are mentally handicapped. People in the latter stages of dementia may wander continuously and refuse point blank to sit down. In the event of this occurring, you should remove all tripping hazards such as mats and small units that they could trip over. You should also avoid having any open heating devices such as electrical fires because these can cause more trouble and destruction than they are worth. However, a bathroom should be available to them at all times, as should an appropriate place to sit just in case they exhaust themselves.
If a person is physically disabled, then you should allow them to rest in the most appropriate spot in the room, granting them access to their source of entertainment as well as warmth. However, you should not cut them off from any source of communication because if they need you and are unable to reach you then they may attempt physical feats that are beyond their abilities. This could cause falls. You must also ensure that they are safe within their chair or bed, having the appropriate rests either side of them to prevent slipping and falls.
If you take your elderly charge out and about then you should have the same sort of measure in place because you have to fully concentrate in order to anticipate danger before it actually happens. Take every step slowly and do not hurry anyone with a disability. It may cause them to panic and fall, or cause a scene. Always make sure that they are warmly dressed if it is winter and have layers on if it is summer and always attempt to comply with their wishes. If a physically disabled senior does not think that he or she can handle the activity that you propose then you will more than likely be informed of that fact. However, you have to assess the abilities of a mentally impaired individual to be able to make an informed decision about whether your suggestion is appropriate or not.
Regardless of whether you are looking after an elderly person in the home or on an outing, you should always remember that there is one key to the process of assuring their safety. Communication is that key. If your senior cannot tell you whether they feel safe or not, you should be able to identify any signs of distress or fear effectively. If you can get to the point where you can achieve that, then you should feel confident in your role as guardian and protector of their safety. This is not an excuse to have a lax view of their personal safety because, regardless of how safe that you may think they are, you will usually be proved wrong as soon as you begin to let your guard down! Maintaining the safety of an elderly person in your care is a 24-hour job and you should always take it seriously.