A smoke and carbon monoxide detector is an important safety equipment. By law, everyone should have home smoke detectors installed, and from 2015 most of States also introduced regulations concerning carbon monoxide and gas leak detectors in private buildings.
But when dealing with people with dementia, we need something more than being law compliant: it is important to select our smoke and carbon monoxide detector with attention, because the chance to use it is, unfortunately, higher.
Why are people with dementia more at risk of home accidents?
People with dementia, even at the initial stages, experience a decline in a number of domains which increases the risk of home accidents:
- Cognitive decline. By definition, dementia is characterized by the presence of some form of cognitive impairment. Common problems include deficient memory, attention, and executive functions (e.g., the difficulty to plan activities requiring more than one step, such as cooking a meal). These problems may not impact on everyday routine activities: so, if your mother with Alzheimer has been cooking lasagna for all her life, it is probably quite safe for her to keep cooking it in her kitchen. But if something unexpected happens (someone rings the bell), or she tries doing different things at the same time (e.g., she starts cooking while she is chatting over the phone), it is not impossible that she will forget to close the oven, or to switch the stove off.
- Sensory problems. What is worse, she may not realize that the lasagna is burning because she may have lost in part her sense of smell as a consequence of Alzheimer’s disease. Or she may put on the stove a plastic dish and let it melt down because she mistook that for a similar glass dish. Vision and auditory problems are indeed very common in older people with dementia, and if untreated they can expose them to greater risk of home accidents.
- Motor problems. Some forms of dementia, such as Parkinson’s disease, are characterized by trembling and rigidity. But motor impairments, rigidity and apraxia (a disorder of motor planning) are very common in different dementia types, and may impact negatively on home safety. For instance, your mother could accidentally drop a rug on the gas stove, or poor some water on the gas stove, thus switching the fire off and producing a gas leak.
Can a smoke and carbon monoxide detector give us the peace of mind?
If you and your doctor confirm that your beloved is still autonomous in most of activities of daily living and can stay safe at home, a smoke and carbon monoxide detector is the first, easy step you can take to increase your home safety and prevent potentially fatal accidents.
What is carbon monoxide (or CO)?
It is an odorless, colorless and lethal gas, created when any fuel is burned. Malfunctioning in appliances used for heating and cooking can produce CO – like gas ranges, space heaters, fireplaces, and water heaters.
How do I select the best smoke and carbon monoxide detector for a person with dementia?
Here is a list of questions you should ask yourself, and take into account when selecting a smoke and carbon monoxide detector:
About the person:
- Is he/she still able to react to emergency situations, for instance calling you and the 911? This include both being able to reach a phone and dial a number (motor and visual impairment), and being able to remember the number to dial (cognitive impairment) If you don’t think the person will be able to react fast and properly, you may want to have a connected smoke and carbon monoxide detector that can automatically call you, your neighbors or the 911 when activated;
- Does he/she have hearing impairments? If so, you should select equipments that can sound very loud, and that eventually embed a visual display
About the house/apartment:
- How many floors and rooms do you have? Following the National Fire Protection Association, smoke alarms should be installed in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of your home.
- Do you have gas appliances, such as gas heaters or stoves? If so, you may want to add a gas leak detector. Some smoke and carbon monoxide detectors embed also the gas leak detector. If you have a single gas appliance, sometimes it is easier to take a separate gas leak detector, to be installed in the room containing the gas appliance. It is important to check the kind of gas you need (e.g., natural gas? Propane?), because gas leak detectors may not work for any gas.
- Is your house wifi connected? If not you cannot employ the connected sensors.
Stay in touch with your smoke and carbon monoxide detector!
You can easily find on the market a smoke and carbon monoxide detector that can be considered ‘dementia compliant’, that is that sounds loud enough and can call your phone when a dangerous situation is detected. Here are some examples you can find on Amazon:
In addition, there are new smart devices that can be coupled with a classic smoke and carbon monoxide detector that serve the same function:
When selecting your wifi connected smoke and carbon monoxide detector (or smart device + classical smoke and carbon monoxide detector), you should have a look at the following features:
- Costs: from 50$ to 120$
- Number needed for your home: 1 per house, 1 per floor, one per room
- Power mode: battery vs. wired (with battery backup). Most of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors come in the two versions
- Battery duration: 2, 7 or 10 years
- Connectivity requirements: e.g., with iOS 8 or later, or Android 4 or later, Apple
- Other integrated sensors: e.g., humidity, light, occupancy sensors
Ask the expert to check your house!
If you are concerned about the position and functioning of your smoke and carbon monoxide detector or other house safety equipments, you can ask your local fire and rescue services to provide free home safety visits. They offer advice about how to make the home safer, as well as fitting smoke alarms and planning escape routes.
Also, to make your house safer remember to check periodically your electric and gas appliances to make sure they are working safely.
For more information on gas, smoke and carbon monoxide detector you can check: