Home Safety for People With Huntington's Disease
If you are caring for a person with Huntington's disease , bealert to special safety concerns in the home. Certainmanifestations of the disease can leave the person more at risk forfalls and other accidents. For example, the person may be unsteadyon his feet and fall down the stairs. Poor coordination maylead to tripping on a rug. Guns and other potential weapons in thehouse are also hazardous, especially when someone in the house isprone to emotional upsets, loss of judgment, or delusions. Safety hazards in the home are not always apparent. For thisreason, your first step should be to do an assessment of the wholehouse, keeping in mind the habits and routines of thepatient. Ask yourself what could be a potential hazard.
General Safety Precautions
CordsLamp, extension, and telephone cords should be away from the flowof traffic. Cords should not be beneath furniture, rugs orcarpeting where they could cause a fire. They should be in goodcondition, not frayed or cracked.
Rugs, Mats, and RunnersThrow rugs are easy to trip over and should be avoided. Allother rugs, mats, and runners should be slip-resistant. They can bepurchased slip-resistant, or you can apply adhesive carpet tape orrubber matting to the backs of them. Check slip-resistant rugsperiodically since they can lose their adhesiveness over time.Short pile carpets are easier than deep pile carpets for people whohave walking problems.
Smoke Detectors and Fire ExtinguishersEach month, make sure all smoke detectors work and are near allbedrooms. Smoke detectors should be on the ceiling or 6-12 inchesbelow the ceiling on the wall. Fire extinguishers should be placedin several locations, the most important being the kitchen. Makesure all outlets and switches have cover plates and that no wiringis exposed.
SmokingIf the person with Huntington's disease smokes , remember that itmay be one of his few pleasures. Taking cigarettesaway could cause agitation and extreme emotional upset. Instead,consider the following tips to keep smoking from becoming such afire hazard in the home:
- Do not allow smoking in bed, which should be a rule for allmembers of the household.
- Look at the places where the person tends to smoke. Removeanything that could catch fire easily, such as newspapers,magazines, boxes, dried flowers, or leaves.
- Make sure that the floor and furniture are flame-resistant.
- If your loved one smokes outside, make sure it is in a low-risk area, awayfrom dried wood, leaves, flowers, or flammable chemicals.
- Use ashtrays that are large, stable, and fireproof. Make surethe ashtrays are placed in an area where they cannot be easily knocked ontothe floor. An ashtray attached to a floor stand might be a betteralternative.
- Cigarette holders can help the person hold the cigarettewithout it burning down to their fingertips.
Arrangement of FurnitureFurniture can be an obstacle course for patientswho lack coordination. They may bump into furniture frequently, ortry to grab onto it to prevent a fall when they lose balance. Toprevent frequent bumps and difficulty getting around, you may needto remove some furniture and store it in another area. Or you maysimply need to rearrange furniture so that there is more space formaneuvering. Furniture should be strong enough to provide supportif the person with Huntington's disease grabs onto it to prevent afall.
WeaponsFirearms should not be in the house. A person with Huntington'sdisease may feel depressed or full of rage, have hallucinations, display poorjudgment, or have a loss of coordination. If you choose to keepfirearms, you should use trigger guards, and keep guns unloaded andlocked in a cabinet. Ammunition should be locked in a fireproofsafe, and keys should be kept outside the home. Knives and other sharp objects could also cause injury.You may want to consider keeping sharp knives, scissors, and otherpotential weapons in a locked cabinet, as well.
KitchenThere are a number of potential hazards in most kitchens. Hereare some tips for kitchen safety:
- If possible, patients with Huntington's disease should besupervised when in the kitchen.
- Keep hazardous chemicals in a locked cabinet.
- Towels, curtains, and other flammable objects should be keptaway from the stove top.
- Knobs should be removed from the stove.
- Keep the tables, counter tops, and stove free fromclutter.
- Consider getting a corral for the stove top to keep pots frombeing knocked over.
- Keep the person's kitchen items within reach.
- Consider using plastic plates, bowls, and cups.
- Get a stove that has safety features.
BathroomMedical supply houses sell and rent utilities that can make yourbathroom safer. Thefollowing tips should be applied:
- Bathtubs and showers should be equipped with nonskid mats,abrasive strips, or surfaces that are not slippery.
- Grab bars need to be in the bathroom and the shower.
- Existing grab bars should be strong and stable.
- A stool with a nonskid surface can also help those with balanceproblems.
- A person who has difficulty standing on his own in the showershould be accompanied by someone who can help.
- Spacer blocks and handles can be attached to toilet seats sothat the person has something to grip.
- If the patient is showing signs of cognitive decline,medicines, cleaners, and potential toxins should be locked in a cabinet. Oldmedicines should be thrown out.
- Night-lights should be installed in the bathroom and on the wayfrom the bedroom to the bathroom.
- A light switch should be near the door of the bathroom. A glowswitch will help the person see it in the dark.
- The water heater should be set to "low" or 120°F (49°C).
- Light switches should be within reach of the bed.
- If the person falls out of bed, considerbuying a cotton flat weave hammock. Unlike the hammock people putin their back yards, these completely enclose the person.
- Consider installing padded rails around the bed, or getting ahospital bed.
- A floor bed may be helpful, as long as the person is able toget up safely.
- Install night-lights.
- Have handrails on both sides of the stairwell.
- Help the person up and down the stairs, if necessary.
- Try to keep walls free from heavy paintings and objects thatcould be knocked down.
- Install wooden railings or metal grab bars on the walls.
Hereditary Disease Foundation
The Huntington Disease Society of America
International Huntington Association
Huntington Society of Canada