Dementia and Safety

with Kimberly Harp,

NaviGuide, United Church Homes

This week on Ask a NaviGuide, host Ashley Bills is joined by Kimberly Hart, one of our NaviGuides at United Church Homes. During the episode, Ashley and Kimberly discuss safety issues for those with dementia. The conversation includes safety measures to take to help reduce the risk for dementia patients, how to handle patients who wander, signs that can pose a safety risk, resources for those caring for dementia patients, and more.
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Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Kimberly’s background in working with patients with dementia (0:53)
  • Signs of dementia in individuals that pose a safety risk (1:54)
  • Safety measures to take to reduce the risk (3:52)
  • Handling the risk of someone wandering (5:39)
  • Keeping someone calm when they feel like they are losing their independence (7:21)
  • Resources to help those who are caring for loved ones (9:01)

Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit


Ashley Bills 00:07
Hello, and welcome to Ask a NaviGuide, part of the abundant aging Podcast Series. I’m your host, Ashley, and on this show we will discuss topics and aging and family caregiving that can be stressful to work through. This show aims to provide you with tips and advice from United Church Holmes’s NaviGuide team of experts. Our NaviGuides have decades of experience helping families work through issues and we hope that what we share on the show will help everyone age abundantly. Today we have our NaviGuide Kimberly with us, who will help us understand dementia and safety. But before we get started, please remember the opinions shared in this podcast are not those of our NaviGuides are not meant to convey or take the place of any clinical legal or professional advice. So hi, Kimberly, welcome to the show.

Kimberly Harp 00:55
Hi, Ashley. Thank you for having me. Pleasure to be here.

Ashley Bills 00:59
Yeah, I’m so glad you could join us. So why don’t we kick off the episode by just telling us a little bit about your background? And what makes you so knowledgeable in this subject?

Kimberly Harp 01:08
Yeah, thanks so much. So I come from the background and started out as an activities assistant and a nursing home. They placed me in the memory care unit. And that’s where my love for geriatrics and especially those with Alzheimer’s really grew. Just, they were so relatable in many ways, even though we were opposite age realms. I tried to do other things in my 20s just for the money and just no nowhere near as fulfilled, or as meaningful as some of the experiences I had. So I went on to get a bachelors in gerontology. And I’m working on a Master’s in Counseling specific to seniors. So a proud advocate is my background.

Ashley Bills 01:52
That’s awesome. I love that you can just tell by talking and listening to you talk, but you have a heart for it. So glad that you’re here with us. So talking about behaviors, or I’m sorry, safety risks in the home for dementia. Can you give us some of a refresher on the behaviors you may see from someone that has Alzheimer’s or related forms of dementia that could lead to safety risks?

Kimberly Harp 02:17
Yeah, sure, absolutely. Some of the behaviors, that should be red flags, that you would see that our safety risk for individuals living with Alzheimer’s is if they decide they want to cook a meal, you know, sometimes timing, but especially judgment skills, some of that communication isn’t the best depending, you know, on the stages as as the disease progresses. So cooking is probably not a good idea. Also things like running a bathtub, there is a risk for flooding. I actually, there’s a story there if you want to hear

Ashley Bills 03:00
Sure. Let’s hear it.

Kimberly Harp 03:02
Yeah, I had a resident one time, you know, God bless her. She wanted to get a bath, she turned on the bath water, went to go sit down on her recliner, while the tub was filling up, accidentally fell asleep and flooded not only her apartment unit, but the entire first floor on that side of the building below her because it was in the evening, and the water had ran for hours and hours. just soaking through. And it was just, you know, a major safety. You know, anything could have happened to her.

Ashley Bills 03:37
Right? Yeah, that’s unfortunate. And we, you know, we talked about the stages in another episode. And as you progress through those stages, you know, maybe in the early stage, she could run her own bath, you know, but maybe it progressed to the point where, you know, maybe she lost some of that cognitive ability. So, yeah, thanks for sharing that experience. So what are some of the things then people can do in the home to reduce some of those risks.

Kimberly Harp 04:05
So some of the things that you can do as a caregiver of a loved one, or just regular patient with Alzheimer’s, that you’re caring for subtleties, like, you know, unplugging the stove, you know, let them feel like they’re still having that independent autonomy skill that they’re doing and stuff, you know, but you’re still being safe, keeping them safe, where they’re not a harm to themselves for others. Hiding the car keys, so they don’t start driving somewhere. They don’t realize where they’re going, you know, that safety risk, putting away some, you know, those candle lighters, you know, just some normal safety measures. Cut off the water. F You know, they’ve had their bath for the day or, you know, just turn off that water. Valve

Ashley Bills 04:59
Yeah. So would you say that then that indeed that giving up some of that independence is really the burden for both the caregiver and the resident or the person with dementia and Alzheimer’s? That’s really the thing that is sort of driving the frustration part.

Kimberly Harp 05:19
Um, sure, I can only imagine that’s very sobering, you know, we lose your ability to function and participate in the daily activities you want us to Yeah. Knowing that it’s nothing but degenerative, that’s got to be very difficult to live with. And that’s why the support factor is so important. So, right, you’re not alone.

Ashley Bills 05:45
I know that wandering can happen a lot with Alzheimer’s and dementia. So what stage would you say that the wandering is in? And what can you do if someone is at risk for that?

Kimberly Harp 05:58
So the wandering stage typically comes in, in the middle stages of the disease, an individual feels like they want to take a walk, they go take a walk, and next thing, you know, they’re walking down the interstate, you know, I’m not even real cognizant of it. So some of the things that you can do are definitely to put, you know, an extra lock on the doors. Let alert your neighbors, you know, let your neighbors if you’re comfortable with them, knowing the situation Hey, you know, just to let you know, I’ve got this precaution in place, but if you see something that’s not right, or see my mom, you know, whoever wandering around outside, would you please let me know, you know, implement that home health aide services, you know, just extra measures of protection? And I know, in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, they do have those types of things specific to the memory care unit.

Ashley Bills 06:51
Yeah, I think they are. Oh, to get in. Yeah. Or they use some sort of alarm system. Right. Yeah. Right. And that’s scary. Because, you know, just not knowing, like coming to see your loved one and not being there or realizing that, you know, they do have this independence, but like, when is it time to pull the reins back? You know, do you wait too long and something happens? Or do you, you know, protect them early. So that’s a lot to think about. And then it makes me think more about our discussion about independence. So how do you, as a caregiver, keep someone calm, or manage a situation if somebody becomes frustrated by these changes that you’re making in their life right now? You know, you’re taking the keys, you’re turning off the water? How do you keep them calm, and manage all of that?

Kimberly Harp 07:45
Honestly, the best answer I can give is just to meet them, be willing to meet them where they’re at, not where you wish they would be, you know, if somebody is they call it, you know, melting down for, you know, an autistic child or something, but some similar thing, you know, somebody’s becoming aggressive or really unable to express how frustrated they are, but they’re doing it in other forms, you know, just take a step back, you know, how you, we can do this when you’re ready. It’s okay, you know, we don’t have to do this right now. You know, definitely don’t argue that’s not going to be productive. The ability to meet them where they’re at, you know, use humor, if you can, you know, if they say something that you know, is just off the wall or something, you know, oh, there’s monkeys in the backyard fighting, you know, use humor. No, is the season for monkeys? Yeah.

Ashley Bills 08:43
Yeah, I like that. Because the humor, because that sort of lightens. Any situation, right? If you can just kind of laugh about it and move on. It’s sort of my go to for it. So I can appreciate that and relate to it for sure. And I like that, you know, being able to just defuse the situation with a little comedy, I think, is wise. So it’s in speaking of the safety risks, and the ways we can modify or adjust things at home and how we can defuse conversations. Is there anything else that you would like our audience to know about this or any experience that you’ve had in the past that might be helpful for them?

Kimberly Harp 09:27
Just knowing you’re not alone, you know, please reach out and get the support that you so desperately need. I do not know the facts and figures right off the top of my head with the percentages and stuff right now but it’s off the wall with how much caregivers do and how, you know, they don’t get paid. Especially the at home caregivers for it. They need respite. You know, please take the time to take care of yourself so you can continue to pour into your loved one read Chow, the Alzheimer’s Association is there they have a 24/7 helpline, so many other services where you don’t have to go at this alone, just like you’re giving that gift to your loved one with Alzheimer’s, you know, you’re telling them I may not understand what you’re going through right now, but I’m willing to sit with you. I’m willing to hold your hand through this process, you know, be kind enough to yourself to give yourself that same grace. You know, put your own breathing mask back on type analogy,

Ashley Bills 10:31
right. Good advice can really as always be very good advice and appreciate you coming on and sharing your heart and passion for anyone dealing with Alzheimer’s dementia. And I’m sure everyone else just seems like you really have a heart for people. And we’re so glad that you came on the show. So thank you. And thank you for tuning in to another episode of Ask an ABA guide, part of the abundant aging podcast series brought to you by United Church homes. If you liked the show, please like, share and subscribe so we can bring you more shows like this. You can find us at abundant aging and leave feedback that we’d love to hear from you. For more information about the United Church homes navigation program, please visit And for more information about you know United Church Homes memory care program comfort matters, please visit We’ll see you next time!