Living with dementia: Five important tips to maintain quality of life

Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of symptoms associated with an ongoing decline of brain functioning. Dementia damages the nerve cells in the brain so messages can’t be sent from and to the brain effectively, which disrupts the body’s functions. The condition can affect a person at any age but it is more commonly diagnosed in people over the age of 65 years. Although the condition cannot be cured, with the right support and lifestyle choices, many people can, and do, live well with dementia for several years.

A person with dementia should also carry a help card

Age UK

Here are five such ways people with dementia can get the most out of life:

Stay socially active

Maintaining an active social life, engaging in activities such as going the theatre or cinema, or being part of a walking group or choir, can boost confidence and mental wellbeing, explained the NHS.

“If you have someone who helps care for you, an active social life is good for them, too,” explained the health body.

People with dementia should also join a local dementia-friendly group, perhaps at a memory café or community centre. These spaces enable people with dementia to share experiences and use tips from others who are living with dementia, explained the health site.

Telling people about your dementia

Telling people about a dementia diagnosis and letting them in on what is difficult, such as following a conversation or remembering what was said, will help people to provide the best support and be more understanding, said the NHS.

This can make day to life a lot easier. “For example, if you’re no longer able to drive, they could take you to a weekly activity,” explained the health site.

According to Age UK, a person with dementia should also carry a help card to let people know they have dementia and include the contact details of a chosen contact.

Looking after your health

The NHS also emphasises the importance of taking steps to maintain physical and mental health, such as:

  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Exercise regularly. This could be a daily walk or gardening, or trying tai chi or dancing.
  • Ask a GP if it would be beneficial to get a flu vaccination and pneumonia vaccination.
  • Get enough sleep. Try to avoid naps during the day and caffeine and alcohol at night.
  • Depression is very common in dementia. Talk to a GP, as there are talking treatments that can help.
  • Have regular dental, eyesight and hearing check-ups.

“If you have a long-term condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, try to attend regular check-ups with your GP, which should include a review of the medicines you’re taking,” said the health site.

Coping mechanisms

Memory loss and problems with thinking speed can be highly distressing. Age UK recommends the following tips to keep the mind as resilient as possible:

  • Follow a routine. Doing things at the same time each day or week can reassure people with dementia and stimulate their memory.
  • Pin notes up in prominent places if there are things needed to be done regularly, like locking the doors at night or putting out the recycling.
  • Carry a notebook to write down daily tasks.
  • Put important things, like glasses or keys, in the same place every time so that they are easy to find.
  • Get a clock that shows the date and day of the week.

The NHS also recommends putting regular bills on direct debits so people with dementia don’t forget to pay them.

Extra help and support

In the early stages of dementia, people may be able to live independently, with little impact on their day to day life.

“As the illness progresses, it’s likely that you’ll need extra help with daily activities, such as housework, shopping and cooking,” the NHS explained.

“The first step is to apply for a needs assessment from the adult social services of your local council. This will help identify where you might benefit from help,“ The health body said.

It added: “It’s advisable to do this soon after your diagnosis as a needs assessment can identify things you may not have thought of.”

Interestingly, a new study published in the PLOS Medicine journal has also found that people who socialised more with friends at the age of 60 were less likely to develop dementia later in life.

As the British Heart Foundation reported, researchers at University College London used information from over 10,000 people who answered questions about their social contact with friends and family between 1985 and 2013.

People in the study also completed five cognitive tests between 1997 and 2016, assessing their verbal memory, verbal fluency, and reasoning.

Their health records were used to find out whether they went on to develop dementia.

The study did not distinguish between the types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type) or vascular dementia (the second most common type).

Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood supply to the brain, usually as a result of narrowed blood vessels, a stroke or a series of mini-strokes (TIA’s).

The participants were taking part in the Whitehall II study, part-funded by the BHF, which followed the health of London civil servants from the mid-1980s until 2017.

The researchers found that people who regularly socialised with friends at the age of 60 had a lower risk of developing dementia, but socialising with relatives wasn’t linked to a difference in risk.

When they studied social contact at the ages of 50 and 70, the researchers found lower risks of dementia in people who socialised more, however these findings were not strong enough to be statistically significant.

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