The Hidden Dangers of Dementia: How to Overcome Risks for Utmost Safety

Many older adults must consider ways to make their homes safer as they age to prevent accidents. However, adults with dementia face a different set of risks and may be more prone to certain dangers.

Safety concerns for dementia patients go above and beyond those for normally aging adults. In addition to the common risks of falls and fractures, adults with dementia may be at increased risk for health concerns due to memory loss. Fortunately, there are ways to increase the level of safety for people dealing with dementia. 

Continue reading to discover the dangers of dementia, including dangers of living alone with dementia. 

Understanding Dementia

Dementia is a disorder that affects a person’s cognitive function and is most often characterized by memory loss. Symptoms can be tricky to identify since forgetfulness is often viewed as a “normal” part of aging. Beyond forgetting details from time to time, dementia impacts aspects of cognition like reasoning, memory, emotion, personality, and critical thinking. 

Ranging from mild to severe, there are many symptoms of dementia, including: 

  • Balance issues 
  • Confusion 
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts 
  • Forgetting words to familiar items 
  • Lack of empathy 
  • Loss of interest in usual activities 
  • Poor decision-making and impulsive behavior  
  • Poor hygiene or money management 
  • Repeating questions or phrases
  • Trouble speaking, reading, or writing 
  • Trouble completing routine or daily tasks 
  • Wandering or getting lost 
  • Well-known details become less familiar 

There are several different types of dementia, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most common. Typically, dementia affects older adults ages 60-65 and up, although some cases have been seen in adults of younger ages. 

Dementia is progressive, meaning the disease progresses from mild symptoms at first to more severe symptoms that worsen with time. 

General Dangers of Dementia

Some characteristics of dementia can make maintaining proper health especially difficult. 

Decline In Self-Care and Daily Activities 

Since dementia can impact daily activities, it can make daily routines difficult. In particular, it can affect activities of daily living (ADLs)—like dressing, eating, toileting, and bathing—crucial to caring for oneself and living independently. 


Dementia may also put an individual at greater risk for other health conditions. This is largely due to an increasing inability to recognize risk factors. For example, someone with dementia might have a hard time tracking high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. 

Communication Challenges

One hallmark of dementia is an individual’s inability to communicate what they are feeling or thinking. Dementia can impact a person’s ability to call upon the right words at the right time, making conversation more difficult. 

Not only can this put a strain on relationships, but it may be difficult for a person with dementia to communicate effectively when they think something is concerning or wrong. 

Dangers of Living Alone with Dementia

For a person living alone, dementia may increase the risk of accidents. Understanding areas where potential accidents can occur may help to mitigate risks. 

It’s essential for caregivers and loved ones to help individuals with dementia recognize when the risks of living alone outweigh the benefits. 

Physical Risks

With memory loss, there may be a disconnect regarding recognizing which items are dangerous and which are not. For example, someone with dementia may touch a hot pan without a protective oven mitt due to their brain’s inability to recognize it as “hot.” There may also be a struggle to locate items that can physically keep you safe in the case of an emergency, such as fire extinguishers or emergency medication. 

Other physical risks, such as forgetting to change clothing, may be more subtle. While not necessarily immediately harmful, wearing the same clothes for an extended period could cause an accumulation of dirt that could increase the likelihood of infection.

Other common physical concerns among people with dementia include: 

  • Dehydration and malnutrition (due to cooking or eating difficulties)
  • Falls and fractures
  • Spills or messes left uncleaned 
  • Tripping on stairs, carpets, or cords  

Psychological and Emotional Risks

Dementia may create a sense of panic or agitation that can be difficult to process when one lives alone. It can confuse sensory input, including a struggle to understand what one sees, hears, smells, touches, or tastes. 

Other emotional and psychological situations that make living with dementia difficult include: 

  • Being uncomfortable or unsettled but not understanding why 
  • Getting startled by mirrors or other reflective surfaces 
  • Difficulty discerning specific colors of patterns 
  • Forgetting about essential people or pets 
  • Not knowing how to (or who to) reach out to in case of an emergency
  • Struggling in situations with too many stimuli, such as crowds or parties 

Environmental Risks

As dementia progresses, managing risks around the home may not be top of mind. Seemingly minor inconveniences, like forgetting to turn off a burner or faucet, can quickly turn into disaster and cause significant danger. 

Other common environmental concerns include: 

  • Consuming items that might be helpful in one context but harmful in another, such as cleaning supplies
  • Driving a car, even with a lack of ability to understand traffic rules or directions 
  • Engaging in once-safe hobbies, like sewing or cooking, that might now be considered dangerous without supervision 
  • Forgetting to check smoke detectors or change alarm batteries 
  • Mixing medications 
  • Trouble managing finances to afford necessities 

Safety Concerns for Dementia Patients

Whether your loved one is still able to live alone or is moving toward more supervised care, there are many ways to minimize risk and promote safety for someone with dementia. 

Home Safety 

Home safety encompasses many aspects of home living. Luckily, one rule of thumb is helpful if you’re struggling to identify what poses a risk—when in doubt, remove (or limit access) anything potentially hazardous. This may sound extreme, but can quite literally save a life. 

If your loved one insists on living alone, they may be amenable to home care. This would allow for an additional person to be in the house in case of an emergency but still allow for independence. This caregiver could also take care of potentially dangerous tasks, like cooking, but otherwise allow the person with dementia to go about their day. In short, a home health specialist can reduce the risk of common dangers while helping people live as independently as possible. 

It’s also recommended to survey your home using some sort of home safety checklist for dementia, which usually suggests safety measures like installing grab bars or securing throw rugs. This can help you identify several problem areas and places of highest concern. 

Supportive Services 

As mentioned above, there’s no shame in asking for help, whether that involves hiring home care or opting for more drastic measures like adult daycares. Since dementia is progressive, your loved one’s needs may likely change throughout the disease. It’s helpful to revisit their situation occasionally to ensure their current needs are being met. 

Whether caring from afar or more actively involved in the day-to-day, joining a support group may help you find a sense of peace and connect you with people who understand your struggles. 


Technology can be extremely useful in keeping an individual with dementia safe. Simplified devices, like a Lively senior cell phone, can simplify calls and texts if your loved one gets overwhelmed by lots of flashing lights or stimuli. A simple device or life alert system may make it more likely that a senior with dementia receives the help they need promptly, especially in the case of an emergency. 

As dementia progresses, someone struggling with memory loss may also be prone to wander without a clear sense of direction. Using a monitoring device or some sort of GPS tracker may be wise. These devices can help keep an individual with dementia from wandering too far before you find them and can help prevent them from getting too close to a busy street or road before you’re alerted. 

A Final Word on the Dangers of Dementia

The dangers of dementia should not be attributed to simple “forgetfulness” with age. Dementia puts seniors at significant risk for accidents that can put them in grave danger. 

Fortunately, the actions of loved ones, family members, friends, and caregivers can go a long way to help and protect an individual from harming themselves or others. 


Edemekong PF, Bomgaars DL, Sukumaran S, Schoo C. Activities of Daily Living. Published June 2023.  

National Institute on Aging. Driving Safety and Alzhiemer’s Disease.  Published April 2023. 

National Institute on Aging. Home Safety and Alzheimer’s Disease.  Published May 2017. 

National Institute on Aging. Understanding Different Types of Dementia. Published December 2022. 

National Institute on Aging. What Is Dementia? Symptoms, Types, and Diagnosis. Published December 2022.