Alzheimer’s disease: What to do when senses fail?

Caregivers must turn their Spidey sense on to offer protection when Alzheimer’s patients can’t trust their own senses anymore. This condition can cause a deterioration of sight, audition, taste, touch and smell. In addition to glasses, dentures, and hearing aids, the caregiver must ensure the environment adapts to the patient’s shortcomings and not the other way around.  

Home safety tips related to sense impairment






·         Make floors a different color than walls to create a contrast and help the patient perceive depth. Floor coverings that are a solid color are less visually confusing.

·         Apply the above advice to dishes and placemats as well.

·         Tape brightly colored strips to the edges of steps to outline height changes.

·         Mark important rooms – like the bathroom – with brightly colored signs or pictures.

·         Keep in mind that a pet does not have to be chameleon in order to become undistinguishable from the floor to the person with Alzheimer, who can trip over the pet and fall.

·         Remove curtains and rugs with busy patterns that can be confusing to the patient.

·         Keep as few mirrors in the house as possible; the reflection may confuse the person.



·         People with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to smell smoke or associated with danger; install smoke detectors and check them regularly.

·         Similarly, the person may not be able to smell spoiled food; clear the fridge of expired food.




·         Most water heaters are set to 150°F; set them to 120°F instead to prevent burns.

·         Separate water faucet handles with colors; red for hot, blue for cold.

·         Put a DO NOT TOUCH or STOP! VERY HOT sign on ovens, coffee makers, toasters, crock-pots, irons, and other potentially hot appliances.

·         Check the bath water’s temperature with a thermometer.

·         Remove sharp-cornered furniture and objects or pad the corners to avoid injury.







·         Hide salt, sugar, spices, and other condiments if the person uses them in excess.

·         Store toothpaste, perfume, lotions, shampoos, rubbing alcohol, soap, and other medicine cabinet items away from the reach of a person with Alzheimer who may think they are edible.

·         Think about getting a childproof latch for the fridge.

·         Write down the toll-free poison control number –1-800-222-1222 – and keep it near the phone.

·         Keep pet litter boxes away from the patient.

·         Do not store pet food in the fridge.

·         Learn the Heimlich maneuver.

·         Keep an extra set of dentures.




·         The person may not be able to handle loud or too many different noises. Don’t play the TV or stereo too loud or at the same time.

·         Close doors and windows if there is too much outside noise.

·         Avoid large groups of people and keep visitors to a minimum.

·         Check the batteries and settings of hearing aids regularly.


Sense impairment and driving

In addition to memory loss and thinking problems, vision and hearing issues can affect the driving skills of the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Driving a vehicle requires the ability to react and make decisions at the drop of a dime. Taking driving privileges away from someone – and with them a big chunk of their independence – is not something to take lightly. You have to know when, why, and how to do it.

Driving safety

Warning signs

Suggestions to deal with the problem

The person:

·         Gets lost in a familiar location.

·         Does not respect traffic signs.

·         Drives at inappropriate speeds.

·         Becomes angry, frustrated, or confused.

·         Makes slow or poor decisions.

·         Takes a lot of time doing a simple errand and cannot explain why.


·         There are new dents or scratches on the car.

·         Let the person know about your concerns.

·         Give them a single, simple explanation for why they shouldn’t keep driving, like “you have a vision problem.”

·         Ask your doctor to tell the person not to drive anymore.

·         Ask a friend or relative to drive the person around.

·         Take the person to get a driving test.

·         Hide the car keys or replace them with an unusable set.

·         Move the car, or otherwise render the vehicle unusable (take out the distributor cap, disconnect the battery).

·         Search the blue pages, contact the local Area Agency on Aging office, or call the Community Transportation Association (1-800-891-0590) to ask about services that help disabled people get around.

·         Ask the State Department of Motor Vehicles about a medical review for a person who may be a driving hazard. The DMV may ask the person to retake a driving test and even take their license away.

·         Use public transportation (the walking bus, for instance). 

·         Pay a mechanic to install a kill switch, alarm system, or any other device that disengages the fuel line.

·         Sell the car.

·         Never leave a person with Alzheimer’s disease alone in a parked automobile.