Dementia and healthy living
The key to living well with dementia is staying healthy – physically and mentally.
It is easier for someone with dementia to take on new challenges and lead a meaningful and positive life when they feel well.
A good diet, exercise, sleeping well and being free of pain and infection are critical in maintaining good health and wellbeing.
If you can stand up and do it, do it. If you can’t, sit down and do it. And if you can’t, lay down and do it. The thing is that you do it.A man with dementia from the Forget Me Not club in Swindon’s Walking Group
Illness can have a dramatic impact on all of us, potentially affecting our ability to think and communicate and having to leave home to go to hospital. For someone with dementia, illness and the possibility of being admitted to hospital may cause great anxiety and stress and potentially affect their ability to remain in their own home.
Regular eye, hearing and dental checks are critical in maintaining good health and wellbeing and in avoiding unnecessary anxiety and stress in people with dementia. Poor eyesight can put someone at risk in their own home, poor hearing can increase communication difficulties and dental problems can result in a loss of appetite. A care worker can help encourage people with dementia to have regular checks by looking out for the following:
Poor eyesight: Trips and falls in the home are more likely if someone can’t see properly. Not being able to read information, books, newspapers or signs can increase confusion and frustration. The problem may be due to the person not wearing their glasses or needing an eye test and new glasses.
Poor hearing: If communication is a problem (say someone struggles to follow a conversation or has the TV on very loud) it may be because they have hearing difficulties. The problem may be due to the person not wearing their hearing aid or needing a hearing test and hearing aid.
Dental problems: Painful gums, toothache or poorly fitted dentures can lead to a person not drinking or eating. If they have difficulty talking, they may not be able to express discomfort while eating. A visit to the dentist will help resolve these issues.
Enjoying life is crucial to the health and wellbeing of a person with dementia. This involves taking up or maintaining hobbies and interests (such as photography, walking, singing, playing instruments, knitting, crosswords, chess and other board games), doing things around the house and garden and attending and participating in social activities (for example going to the cinema, theatre and community events). Taking regular exercise (from scenic walks in the country to strolls through parks or streets of villages, towns and cities) helps to maintain mobility and stimulate the senses.
An initiative to enhance the quality of life of older people receiving care – ‘Make every moment count’ – has been launched by Scotland’s care regulator, the Care Inspectorate. It has worked with a team of experts to develop the resource, which is aimed at encouraging everyone who works in care to value the life of the person they are caring for. ‘Make every moment count’ highlights how making the most of every moment can make a real difference to a person’s quality of life in simple but very meaningful ways. The Care Inspectorate, in a video about the resource, says that ‘a key message is to rethink activity and see it as everything a person does, from the moment they get up in the morning to the moment they go to sleep at night’.
A care worker has an important role to play in encouraging and supporting a person with dementia to stay active in and outside their home. Daily activities can include involving a person with dementia to help with washing up and laundry chores, cleaning and vacuuming their home and spending time in their garden, allotment or similar outside space. It not only helps to keep them busy, it also engages their mind, giving them a sense of value and worth – important qualities to nurture after a diagnosis of dementia.
Helping or encouraging the person to create a life history book with family and friends (containing information and pictures that have helped to shape their lives, from family holidays to favourite places, jobs and best friends) can be invaluable. It provides a positive talking point and is particularly helpful when someone has difficulty communicating or remembering a partner, relative, friend or an important phase in their life.
For more information about staying active see the section focusing on Keeping active and occupied.
Eating and drinking well
Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet can be a challenge for many people with dementia. Some may eat too much – and of the wrong kind of foods – and some may forget to eat and drink, particularly as their dementia progresses. Missing out on essential nutrients will reduce a person’s resistance to illness and can cause or increase confusion.
The Scottish Care Inspectorate’s ‘Make every moment count’ resource (referred to above) emphasises the importance of treating everyday activities – including eating and having a cup of tea – as critical to a person’s wellbeing. ‘Thinking about activity in this way gives everyone the opportunity to improve the quality of life of the person being cared for,’ says the Care Inspectorate, which has developed the resource with a team of experts.
The section on Eating well for people with dementia (in particular the feature on Eating well at home) demonstrates that carers have a ‘vital role to play in supporting a person who lives at home to eat well’.
It suggests that they should:
- Take time to work out a person’s food preferences and encourage them to be as involved as possible in food preparation.
- Consider whether the current approach to shopping and accessing meals is working well to make sure there is a regular supply of food in the house.
- Try some simple alternatives – such as finger foods and snacks – if it seems that a person is not eating or drinking enough.
- Keep alert to any chewing and swallowing problems and involve a specialist if necessary.
A good night’s sleep is essential to a person’s good health and wellbeing. Some people with dementia experience sleeping difficulties (for example, they may wake several times during the night because they think it is morning and time to get up).
A care worker may be able to help overcome this problem by:
- reducing fluid intake in the evening (trying to avoid tea and coffee which can increase the number of visits to the toilet)
- helping the person to stay active during the day (by going on walks or helping in the house or garden)
- reducing daytime naps (again, by keeping the person actively involved in hobbies, activities around the house or social interests).
All SCIE resources are free to download, however to access the following download you will need a free MySCIE account:
- Activity: Staying healthy
Further reading Open
Alzheimer’s Society (2012) ‘Staying healthy’, Factsheet 522, London: Alzheimer’s Society.
Alzheimer’s Society (2010) ‘Keeping active and staying involved’, Factsheet 505, London: Alzheimer’s Society.
‘Coping with dementia: dressing’: This NHS Health Scotland video shares some useful tips for carers on encouraging and helping people with dementia to put on their clothes and shoes.
‘Dementia: Singing for the Brain’: This NHS Choices film introduces Singing for the Brain, a service provided by the Alzheimer’s Society, which uses singing and other activities to bring together people with dementia or memory loss. Participants and their carers talk about the service’s benefits.
Useful links Open
The Alzheimer’s Society produces a range of resources, including the 2017 publication The dementia guide (available online and in hard copy) aimed at people with dementia and their carers immediately following diagnosis. The Society also publishes over 80 factsheets including After a diagnosis (471), Coping with memory loss (526), Staying healthy (522) and Staying involved and active (505).
This 2008 Health Scotland publication is written for people newly diagnosed with dementia. It covers topics such as ‘Staying well’, ‘Practical support’ and ‘Planning for the future’.
Living well with dementia: practical tips and advice
In this NHS Scotland film a number of people with dementia share practical tips for managing day-to-day living with dementia, such as putting up signs and instructions in the kitchen for safer meal preparation.
The Dementia Diaries project involves people living with dementia keeping an audio record of their daily life with dementia. Contributions cover a number of themes: care and support, public perceptions, family and friends, living well with dementia, daily challenges, and policies and service provision. The project is the work of the non-profit communications organisation On Our Radar working with DEEP.
An NHS Choices film about memory cafes and how they offer people with dementia and their carers the chance to socialise and share information. Here, one group talks about what the experience means to them and how the specific activities offered at the café benefit them.
Still going strong
This online booklet by the Mental Health Foundation is for people who want to find out more about living with dementia. It is particularly useful if you have recently been told you have dementia and want to know more about what this might mean. The material covers ‘Is it dementia?’ ‘Living with dementia’, and ‘Planning for the future’ and includes a section on strategies that people with dementia have found useful.
Related pages from this section Open