Home Safety for People With Huntington's Disease
by Amy Scholten, MPH
If you are caring for a person with Huntington's disease, be alert to special safety concerns in the home. Certain manifestations of the disease can leave the person more at risk for falls and other accidents. For example, the person may be unsteady on his feet and fall down the stairs. Poor coordination may lead to tripping on a rug. Guns and other potential weapons in the house are also hazardous, especially when someone in the house is prone to emotional upsets, loss of judgment, or delusions.
Safety hazards in the home are not always apparent. For this reason, your first step should be to do an assessment of the whole house, keeping in mind the habits and routines of the patient. Ask yourself what could be a potential hazard.
General Safety Precautions
Lamp, extension, and telephone cords should be away from the flow of traffic. Cords should not be beneath furniture, rugs or carpeting where they could cause a fire. They should be in good condition, not frayed or cracked.
Rugs, Mats, and Runners
Throw rugs are easy to trip over and should be avoided. All other rugs, mats, and runners should be slip-resistant. They can be purchased slip-resistant, or you can apply adhesive carpet tape or rubber matting to the backs of them. Check slip-resistant rugs periodically since they can lose their adhesiveness over time. Short pile carpets are easier than deep pile carpets for people who have walking problems.
Smoke Detectors and Fire Extinguishers
Each month, make sure all smoke detectors work and are near all bedrooms. Smoke detectors should be on the ceiling or 6-12 inches below the ceiling on the wall. Fire extinguishers should be placed in several locations, the most important being the kitchen. Make sure all outlets and switches have cover plates and that no wiring is exposed.
If the person with Huntington's disease smokes, remember that it may be one of his few pleasures. Taking cigarettes away could cause agitation and extreme emotional upset. Instead, consider the following tips to keep smoking from becoming such a fire hazard in the home:
Arrangement of Furniture
Furniture can be an obstacle course for patients who lack coordination. They may bump into furniture frequently, or try to grab onto it to prevent a fall when they lose balance. To prevent frequent bumps and difficulty getting around, you may need to remove some furniture and store it in another area. Or you may simply need to rearrange furniture so that there is more space for maneuvering. Furniture should be strong enough to provide support if the person with Huntington's disease grabs onto it to prevent a fall.
Firearms should not be in the house. A person with Huntington's disease may feel depressed or full of rage, have hallucinations, display poor judgment, or have a loss of coordination. If you choose to keep firearms, you should use trigger guards, and keep guns unloaded and locked in a cabinet. Ammunition should be locked in a fireproof safe, 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 other potential weapons in a locked cabinet, as well.
There are a number of potential hazards in most kitchens. Here are some tips for kitchen safety:
Medical supply houses sell and rent utilities that can make your bathroom safer. The following tips should be applied:
There are many things you can do to ensure the safety of a loved one with Huntington's disease. The person should have easy access to important phone numbers in case of emergencies. Preprogrammed phones, answering machines, and cell phones can assist you. Talk to neighbors about your loved one's condition. Be sure the individual carries some form of personal identification and a phone number, in case he wanders off and gets lost. Be prepared for changes in the person's condition, and make safety adaptations as necessary. A home safety evaluation by a trained physical therapist may be worthwhile.
Hereditary Disease Foundation
The Huntington Disease Society of America
International Huntington Association