Looking at the bigger picture of a person with dementia’s health is important. Hayley Cantrell, manager of Foxearth Lodge Nursing Home (https://www.foxearthlodge.co.uk), explains how to take care of a loved one.
If a loved one is living with a diagnosis of dementia, it’s natural that you’ll be focusing on keeping them safe and well cared for, and ensuring they take their medication regularly. On a broader level however, it’s also important to look at the bigger picture of their physical and emotional health.
If the person is mobile, it’s important to keep them active and make sure they retain as much mobility as possible. Try to encourage them to take regular walks, even if it’s just a short stroll to the local store. Daily walks will help to keep their bones strong (reducing their risk of osteoporosis) and protect their heart health. Regular exercise offers the following physical benefits:
- Helping to maintain their mobility
- Improving circulation and preventing stiffness
- Boosting relaxation – helping the person to feel calmer and more relaxed
Exercise can also improve mood and reduce stress. If the person is no longer mobile, there may be other forms of exercise they can try – such as upper body exercises in a chair.
If the person starts to become unsteady on their feet, they will be at greater risk of falls, so it’s important to get them referred to an occupational therapist. If they live at home, they may need aids, such as handrails for the stairs, a walking frame or a shower stool for the bathroom.
It’s also important to ensure that the person with dementia has regular medical check-ups, at least every six months. They should have their medication reviewed and other health checks, like their blood pressure checked, carried out regularly.
Make sure the person is eating a healthy diet, with lots of fruit and veg. If they don’t like large meals, it may suit them more to eat smaller meals more frequently. This may be more manageable for them. Make sure their diet includes foods like milk, leafy veg and yoghurt, as these all contain vitamin D, which is essential for keeping bones strong.
Emotional health and wellbeing is also important. A person with dementia may be prone to bouts of depression. Approximately 40 to 50 per cent of those living with Alzheimer’s disease can suffer from depressive symptoms.
Exercise or more social stimulation may help with mild depression, but if symptoms are more severe, it’s important for the person to see their GP, who will usually prescribe antidepressant medication. The person may also be offered talking therapy.
Listening to music is a great way to boost mood. According to Age UK, music has been shown to have a positive effect on a person living with dementia. Music seems to unlock memories and boost brain function. Dementia UK says that music can reach different parts of the brain to language, so it may be the most powerful form of communication.
Finally, the more social contact the person can have, the better. Leaving them on their own for long periods will only cause distress and isolation. Visit them regularly and ensure they have a good social life as well as keeping them safe.