A common scenario…
Sylvia lived with her husband, John, in a two story colonial home. Their children hired an aide to assist the husband with his self care needs, as he was nearly dependent from multiple strokes. Sylvia was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and was resistant to the aide being in the house. Sylvia insisted on being the primary caregiver for John- even though she couldn’t physically care for him. In fact, she was resistant to every suggestion the children offered. She was frequently agitated and belligerent.
I was originally called into the case to work with John, although it was clear to me that Sylvia needed my services as well. Sylvia denied having any memory or cognitive deficits, but agreed to let me work with John for a few weeks. As I got to know Sylvia and John better, I became aware of a problem that required immediate attention.
Sylvia was in the habit of brewing a cup of tea every night before bed. But on at least two occasions, she put the kettle on the stove to boil, and went up to bed without ever making her tea. In fact, she left the kettle on the stove all night until all the water evaporated, and the bottom of the kettle literally melted onto the burner. On other occasions, she had started to make John’s lunch (his favorite being grilled cheese and tomato soup) but had abandoned the cooking task before it was completed. Luckily the aide (who wasn’t hired to supervise Sylvia) was able to intervene each time she smelled burning food.
I contacted the physician and started working with Sylvia too. I tried to teach Sylvia to use a microwave, but the process was too complicated and there was still the risk of a fire due to the potential for metal to be placed into the oven. We decided it was best if Sylvia did not use the microwave oven- and she was completely in agreement with that decision. But when we tried to limit her stove use to when other people could be in the home, or extend the hours of the aide until after Sylvia had her nightly cup of tea, Sylvia wouldn’t hear of it. She also refused to let anyone else prepare John’s lunch, and got upset if the aide “stood over her shoulder” to watch her use the stove. Sylvia and John were at a significant risk for a house fire.
It is common to encounter resistance to safety interventions in the early stages, be it cooking, or driving, or medication management… or any of an infinite number of potential hazards.
If you know someone living at home with early dementia and memory loss, kitchen fires are a reality. There is even a risk in people who, historically, never even used the stove. As long as there is a fire source and cognitively impaired individual, there is risk.
This could happen…
This happens all too often…
If you worry about a cooking-related fire, or if there have been close calls in the past, there are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening.
- Turn off the gas or unplug the stove.
- Remove the knobs from the stove.
- Install a hood-mounted fire extinguisher system.
Per their website: StoveTop FireStop is a 12-ounce automatic fire extinguisher that attaches magnetically under the vent hood over a stovetop. When a stovetop fire occurs and the flame reaches the StoveTop FireStop , the fire suppressing powder is automatically released onto the fire. StoveTop FireStop has a five year shelf life, deploys in seconds and reacts automatically when flames reach its activation device.
Of the many catastrophic possibilities that may prevent caregivers from getting a good night’s sleep, house fires are a real danger. In Sylvia and John’s case, the family was able to install the over-the-stove fire extinguishers and get some peace of mind. Sylvia eventually relented to having caregivers take over the cooking and assist her with making tea each evening. In many situations, there are no paid caregivers to keep watch. In that case, serious consideration should be given to disabling the stove and oven. The risk is just too great.
Encountering resistance? Is communication a problem? Some simple suggestions here.
Check out FireStop website for distributors.