There are several potential problems using the sink area that you need to be aware of. First, some persons with dementia no longer recognize their own image and become frightened when looking into the mirror, thinking a stranger is in the room. If this occurs, use something like a cloth to cover up the mirror.
Second, even though the bathroom is one of the most common places medications are stored, it’s also one of the worst: moisture speeds up drug deterioration. To increase their shelf life, move medications to a safe, dry location. And you need to think about the person’s safety as poisoning can occur if the person accidentally ingests too much or the wrong medication.
In addition to medications, make sure that all items in the bathroom cabinets are safe for the person with Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, or remove to a secure location.
And lastly, if the person uses a wheelchair, removing the cabinet doors may allow you to wheel him or her under the sink so they can get close in for grooming tasks. Make sure to wrap insulation around the hot water pipes. In this bathroom remodel, the lower sink is designed to be wheelchair accessible, with doors that easily swing out of the way.
As the disease progresses, the person may not be able to tell what’s safe to eat and drink due to loss of judgment and memory. They may mistake one item for another – like orange-colored liquid soap for soda pop. So it’s vital to know when you need to deny access.
Although it’s often better to remove items than to lock them up, some caregivers do have success locking cabinets. Be aware, however, that the person could become very agitated when access is denied, especially if the person is prone to agitation.
For safety’s sake, you’ll also want to make sure you have a special outlet called a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) outlet. People with dementia have behaviors that are unpredictable. This special outlet protects the person from shock by immediately cutting off power if the person were to accidentally drop an appliance into the sink or tub. GFCI’s are now required by law in all wet areas (bathroom, kitchen, etc.) in new construction. They can be installed by a qualified electrician or by knowledgeable consumers familiar with electrical wiring practices.
People with dementia often lack the ability to focus. Finding items in a cluttered sink area can make independent grooming difficult or impossible, especially if the items all blend in with each other. On the other hand, using the power of simplicity and color makes it easier for the person to find and recognize needed items.
You may need to go into the bathroom right before the person is to groom themselves and lay things out. Put large labels on items the person has difficulty recognizing, like the toothpaste or soap. Group items used for each task together. For example, make sure the toothpaste is right next to the toothbrush and post step-by-step instructions, using simple language, like “Put toothpaste on toothbrush” and “Brush teeth”. Laminating the sign will also make the signs last longer.