Healthy living is important for everyone, but for people with dementia, it can slow the progression of their condition. People with dementia need to attend all their routine check-up appointments and take their medication as prescribed. This is particularly important in the early stages of dementia, as they will be able to communicate for themselves and directly inform the doctor of any new symptoms or challenges. In addition, by establishing a relationship with their patient in the early stages of the condition, doctors often find they can provide more appropriate care as it advances. If you are a caregiver for someone with dementia, here are ten tips to help them stay as healthy as possible.
1. Maintaining fitness and mobility
To help a person with dementia to stay independent and mobile for as long as possible, regular physical exercise is key. The level of exercise that a person is capable of will vary depending on their fitness, but even people who find it difficult to stand can exercise from a seated position through chair-based exercises. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist may be able to provide a tailored program, and there may be adaptations you can make to the home to help them move around on their own. Exercise has many benefits, including increased circulation, stronger bones and muscles, and improved agility, and it can also help people to relax, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep quality.
2. Emotional wellbeing and mental health
In addition to physical health, a person’s mental healthy and emotional wellbeing is also vital to a healthy lifestyle. People with dementia are still individuals with their own interests, preferences, feelings, and opinions, and it is important to recognize this. Limit the stress they are exposed to and provide them with plenty of enjoyable and stimulating activities to keep their minds active. Interacting with others socially, being able to express their emotions and worries, and feeling that they are being listened to can prevent isolation, depression, and anxiety.
Because physical and emotional health is vital, many people with dementia move into a memory care living facility where they can take part in physical exercise programs, social events, creative projects, and more. In these facilities, they are monitored and cared for by medical professionals with expertise in dementia while maintaining their independence.
3. Balanced nutrition
Getting the right nutrients and limiting sugar, salt, and saturated fat is crucial to a healthy lifestyle, but it can be a challenge to persuade someone with dementia to eat a balanced diet. It is important that people with dementia maintain a healthy weight as this can lead to further health complications, and a sugary diet can lead to mood swings. If you are concerned that someone with dementia is not getting the right nutrients, supplements may be helpful. In the later stages of dementia, they may forget to eat altogether, struggle to use cutlery, and/or find it difficult to chew or swallow. This is when they will need supervision and support at mealtimes. Adequate hydration is also crucial to a healthy mind and body, so offer drinks of water regularly.
4. Drinking alcohol and/or smoking
While it is not necessarily right to stop an individual from exercising their right to smoke or drink alcohol, it is obviously in their best interests that these activities are limited. Smoking is incredibly dangerous for everyone’s health, but if a person with dementia forgets that they have lit a cigarette, it can pose a serious fire risk. The decision to quit smoking should involve the person with dementia, but there is a lot of support for people who want to quit smoking.
Drinking alcohol in small amounts is not necessarily dangerous as it can help lots of people to relax, but too much can worsen their confusion and interfere with medication. If you are concerned that someone with dementia is drinking too much, you could water down the alcohol or replace their drinks with low-alcohol versions.
5. Healthy and regular sleep routine
Some people with dementia can find it difficult to sleep well as they can become confused about the time of day. To help them to keep a regular and healthy sleep routine, it is best to limit naps taken during the day, reduce their caffeine intake (especially in the late afternoon and evening), and keeping them physically and mentally active during the day.
6. Eyesight and hearing
When a person with dementia also finds it difficult to hear and/or see, they are going to become even more disorientated, confused, and lonely. They may not realize or be able to tell you that their eyesight or hearing are worsening, so it is best to take them for regular check-ups.
If they do have hearing problems, they may benefit from a hearing aid, and you should speak to them clearly, ideally when standing in front of them. If they have particular problems understanding you, it could cause them distress and confusion, so it may be best to turn TVs or radios down and limit the number of questions you ask them at one time.
Sight problems can be diagnosed even in the late stages of dementia as optometrists have specialized techniques. Regular check-ups will also look for early signs of glaucoma and cataracts to prevent blindness.
7. Caring for feet
Without healthy feet, a person with dementia will struggle to be active, mobile, and independent for as long as possible. It is important to make sure that they are wearing supportive, well-fitted, and comfortable footwear. If it appears that their feet are swollen or discolored, or they are developing ingrown toenails, corns, or infections, you should take them to a doctor and/or chiropodist.
8. Healthy bones
Dementia can make people more likely to fall, and when you combine a fall with aging or weak bones, the consequences can be serious. To maintain strong bones, it is important to include calcium and vitamin D in a dementia sufferer’s diet in addition to vitamin D supplements. Spending around 20 minutes in the sunlight each day is another great way to get plenty of vitamin D. Click here for foods that are rich in calcium.
9. Dental health
Problems with teeth, gums, or dentures are painful and lead to further complications with eating and drinking. Some dental issues can also be signs of a more serious condition, e.g., gum disease can be linked to coronary disease. Therefore, it is important to help a person with dementia to brush and floss or clean their dentures regularly and attend all routine check-ups. If you see that their gums are red or swollen, they have chipped or broken teeth, missing fillings, or other worrying symptoms, take them to the dentist as soon as possible.
Medication should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they are not taking unnecessary medications, especially those which have side-effects. Dementia sufferers can struggle with taking their medication at the right time, so to ensure that they take their medication at the right times, consider investing in a medication dispenser. This will make a sound when it is time to take their next dose and dispense the correct type and quantity of pills.