Safety and Accident Prevention
Mary M Lancaster
Accidents will occur in the best-regulated
... they may be expected with confidence,
and must be borne with philosophy.
—Charles Dickens (David Copperfield)
Patients who have Alzheimer's disease are prone to a number of accidents and injuries. In the earlier stages of the disease the majority of accidents and safety concerns stem from the progressive cognitive deterioration (loss of memory and judgment) of the patient. These include safety issues such as driving, poisonings, and fires. However, as the disease progresses and begins to take its toll on the physical functioning of the patient, other safety issues become apparent (falls, restraints, etc.) The safety of the patient and others is of paramount concern.
Traffic accidents often are one of the earliest signs that alert caregivers to the fact that something is wrong with the person's mental functioning. Common driving problems include becoming lost and failing to stop at traffic lights, stop signs, or yield signs. Persons with Alzheimer's disease may forget the meaning of road signs, may confuse the meaning of red and green traffic lights, may incorrectly gauge the distance between vehicles, or simply may forget which way to go. Any one of these mistakes can cause a serious accident.
Individuals who are in the early stage of Alzheimer's disease also find it difficult to integrate and understand the meaning of several stimuli received simultaneously. As a result, they are easily distracted, which is often a cause of traffic accidents. For instance, the person may be distracted by road construction and may not notice that a traffic light has changed to red, that they are about to crash into a nearby car, or that they may run off the road.