Keeping healthy when you have dementia

Caring for someone with dementia can be so time-consuming that it’s easy to forget about their general health. Find out how to help your loved one stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible

Three signs a person with dementia is in good health

1. They’re eating, drinking and sleeping reasonably well.
2. They enjoy taking some exercise – however limited.
3. They don’t seem to be in any physically pain.

Being able to spot the signs of ill health in your loved one is really important, but can become increasingly difficult as the illness progresses and they find it more difficult to communicate.

Spotting signs of ill health

- If someone with dementia isn’t feeling well, you might find that they:

- Go off their food – this could be a sign of a physical or mental issue.

- Seem more confused than usual – they could be dehydrated, or be suffering from a Urinary Tract Infection or a vitamin B deficiency.

- Aren’t sleeping and seem more agitated than usual – this could mean they’re in physical pain.

- Have little or no enthusiasm for life – they could be suffering from depression.

If you spot any of these signs there’s a chance that the person you’re caring for isn’t feeling very well. Whilst most people with dementia are elderly, and the disease does take a physical toll, (especially on eating and sleeping) there’s still no reason why anyone should have to suffer pain or discomfort that could either be prevented or treated.

Tips to help them stay in good health

Encourage a balanced diet

A healthy Mediterranean-style diet with lots of fruit, vegetables will ensure they’re getting all the essential nutrients they need to fight illness and feel good. Plenty of fibre-rich food such as wholemeal carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, can also help prevent uncomfortable issues such as constipation. If their appetite isn’t as good as it used to be, they may prefer to eat smaller snack type meals and finger food, rather than three big meals a day, so don’t be afraid to be creative.

Stay active

Whether it’s just a walk around the garden, or a trip to the local shops, the more mobile the person you’re caring for remains, the better it will be for their physical and mental health. There are lots of ways of staying active even when you’re unsteady on your feet. Check out armchair exercise DVDs or consider installing a grab rail – you might be entitled to walking aids on the NHS.

Pay attention to hygiene

Bathing and washing regularly is one of the best ways to prevent infections spreading. If they don’t enjoy bathing (it can become quite traumatic for some people with dementia) try to work out why. If you can make bathtime a ‘treat’ rather than an event to dread, you may find it becomes easier – and that your loved one enjoys it and feels much better afterwards. However, if this doesn’t happen, simply encourage them to wash their hands more often - you can offer them a hand sanitizer if that’s easier.

Get enough sleep and rest

It’s a sad fact that dementia can disrupt sleep patterns but that doesn’t mean they (and you) have to endure constant sleepless nights. Check out how to help them achieve better sleep and ways to encourage more rest and relaxation, too.

Eyes, teeth and hearing

Try not to neglect regular health check-ups. Failing eyesight can lead to accidents and falls  tooth ache and gum disease can put anyone off their food, and hearing loss can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Stay on top of medication

If your loved one needs to take any regular medication or drugs to stay healthy, make sure they stay on top of their dosage by providing reminders to take their pills. This could be with a pill reminder box which will sound an alarm when it's time to take them. They also store the drugs safely to reduce the risk of overdosing.