A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia doesn’t mean that other general health issues are suddenly less important. Ensuring that someone stays healthy during the dementia journey is vital, as failure to do so can often make dementia symptoms much worse. Keeping healthy can cover all areas of wellbeing, from preventing illness and monitoring health, to finding new and interesting ways to boost relaxation and feel calmer. Click on the links below for a few suggestions…

Therapies

Your dilemma:
The person you care for is prone to agitation and restlessness and finds it difficult to relax. They also struggle to get to sleep or find themselves waking during the night and napping during the day.
Products to help:
- Emotional therapy
This is the use of dolls or soft toys to help someone with dementia feel calmer, engage them in daily life and reduce agitation. It’s sometimes seen as a controversial therapy as some people don’t like to see people with dementia using items that are for children. However, numerous research has shown that the benefits can far outweigh any initial concerns about their use. It’s best to use reasonably life-like dolls. It tends to be women that get the most out of doll therapy, although men have been known to also take to a doll. Soft toys such as teddybears or toys that have lots of things to fiddle with can also be beneficial.
- Aromatherapy
This is the use of essential oils from plants to improve physical and mental health. They can be blended with massage oils or burned as an oil, but many essential oils cannot be applied directly to the skin as they’re extremely volatile and complex substances.
They contain chemicals called ‘terpenes’, which act as chemical messengers in the brain. Several essential oils such as lemon, rosemary and melissa officinalis have been shown to help strengthen the actions of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter involved in mental cognition.
If you are using essential oils for massage, follow the instructions on the bottle as to the number of drops it needs to be diluted into the carrier oil. The same goes for burning it in an oil burner.
- Massage therapy
Touch can be an extremely powerful tool for helping to calm someone and boost their wellbeing. That’s why massage therapy, if done well and with a person-centred approach, can also be useful for helping someone with dementia. It’s helpful to have a proper massage oil (which you can add essential oils to if you wish) to help ensure you make smooth strokes.
Other touch therapies, such as reflexology, acupressure and reiki (although you don’t strictly touch the body for this therapy) have all been used to treat dementia symptoms, but they’re best done by a properly qualified therapist.
You could also try using some massage or spa balls. These are plastic balls that are covered in texture lumps, which you can rub on the hands and feet to provide sensory stimulation and to help with massage.
- Light therapy
This is the use of bright lights to help tackle disturbances in sleep/wake cycles of people with dementia. These aren’t just regular lights, but ones that emit a much brighter light. This triggers the body to release hormones that help to wake you up. Clinical research has shown that light can help correct the rest/activity cycles of people with dementia (and there's also some evidence it can help with agitation and aggression as well as depression).
It also ties in with the visual problems that many older people and those with dementia can suffer from. As you age, the lens in the eye becomes thicker and cloudier, which means it can’t let as much light in. A reasonably bright room for you and me could seem much darker for an older person. And for someone with dementia, the decline in cognitive function can also affect visual abilities, all of which means it’s more helpful for a room to be quite bright.
- Music therapy
Music and sound are one of the first senses that we become aware of as babies in the womb. And in a case of ‘first in, last out’, it’s also one of the memories and abilities that we maintain in the latter part of the dementia journey. So while the ability to speak or perform other activities may begin to disappear, the enjoyment and emotional benefits that music can bring may stay much longer if you have dementia.
Music therapy can simply mean listening to a CD of old songs that bring back memories, relaxing music or even playing instruments with a group of others at a memory café or group therapy session.
- Herbal therapies
These use the power of plants to improve health and wellbeing. Like essential oils, it’s important that you get professional advice (and certainly consult your GP before taking anything as they can interact with certain medications). For more information and to find a registered herbalist, visit the National Institute for Medical Herbalists.
- Vitamin supplements
Taking a supplement can help to maintain overall health, and some have been linked to improvements in cognitive function if you take them earlier enough in life. Popular supplements include fish oils, gingko biloba and co-enzyme Q10.
These products are good for:
Boosting contentment, aiding relaxation and promoting sleep. What’s more, they’re all good therapies to help reduce carer stress, too.
Top tip
If trying emotional doll therapy, it’s important that a doll not be given directly to the person with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Rather, it should be left somewhere, on a table or chair, for example, somewhere that the person will easily find it. That way they can make the choice to provide care for the doll, and not feel that they are being given the responsibility to do so, which could cause anxiety or result in the doll being rejected.
Good to know
A 2003 study looked at how light boxes could help people with dementia and found dawn (and dusk) simulation was effective in improving the quality of sleep in people suffering from dementia.

Health monitoring

Your dilemma:
You want to keep track of any health issues for the person you care for, including their weight and their temperature, but find the usual equipment to do this are no longer suitable since the dementia diagnosis.
Products to help
- Blood pressure
If the person you care for needs to check their blood pressure regularly, a monitor could come in handy. Ones that can give you an audible reading as well as visual reading could be particularly useful if they’re having to keep on eye on their blood pressure on a regular basis and they’re struggling to read digital displays or understand numbers that easily.
- Scales
If someone with dementia is either eating too much (because they forget they’ve had a meal) or forgetting to eat and gaining or losing weight, you may need to keep an eye on their weight. Digital or large detail scales could be useful for helping you see the numbers.
- Thermometers
Trying to take the temperature of someone with dementia can be difficult, especially if they don’t know or understand why you’re trying to do it. If you were to use a traditional mercury thermometer, they may try to bite down on it while it’s in their mouth, which could be dangerous. Digital thermometers which can get a reading through either being placed on the forehead, or even scanned near to it without it touching could make it a lot easier.
These products are good for:
Helping to inform and provide support for carers who wish to ensure the person they’re caring for is as healthy as possible.
Top tip
Older people often have circulatory problems, which can leave them feeling cold. Set up a room temperature thermometer in each room so you can monitor what the ambient temperature is – you may need to set the heating slightly higher than you would normally have it, especially if the person you’re caring for doesn’t move around much, as that will stop them generating as much body heat.

Medication management

Your dilemma:
The person with dementia needs to take medication on a regular basis, but often forgets, or tries to take two doses. They need somewhere safe and secure to keep medication.
Products to help
- Dispensers
If someone with dementia needs to take regular medication, it can prove tricky if they can’t remember when to take it, or if they have in fact already taken it that day. Dosette boxes and dispensers can help with this, especially those that are divided up into days of the week and morning and evening containers. You can also get dispensers which have an alarm that sounds each time they need to take a pill, and dispensers that are hooked up to a telecare system, which can monitor whether the pill has been taken, and sound alarm or send a message to a carer if not.
- Storage
Ensuring that pills are safely stored is vital to maintain their efficacy. You also want to ensure that they’re in a container that will be easy enough for the person with dementia to access, but not so much so that they can start taking double doses if they’ve forgotten. Telecare pill dispensers can often help with this issue. Pill crusher and splitter tools are often useful if the medication they’re taken comes in large capsule forms which are difficult to swallow, or if the person with dementia is experiencing swallowing problems and the drugs need to be added to a specially thickened liquid.
These products are good for:
Ensuring the person with dementia stays on top of their daily medication needs and providing peace of mind for the carer if they’re worried that they’ll miss an important dose. Provides independence for the person with dementia, allowing them to stay at home for longer.
Good to know
Find out if your local pharmacy will decant the pills into the plastic cassettes in the automatic pill dispensers. Some will and some won’t – if they don’t, you’ll need to put the pills into it yourself.

Common health problems

Your dilemma:
The person with dementia that you care for has other health problems that you want to be prepared for, to ensure they stay as healthy as possible.
Products to help
- First aid
It’s always useful to have a first aid box ready in case of minor accidents, and if the person you’re caring for lives at home and is prone to bumping into things, or scraping or cutting themselves, it can be especially handy. Keep plasters, bandages, bruise cream, antiseptic cream and some instant ice packs in it.
- Pressure sore prevention
If the person you’re caring for spends a lot of time in bed, they may be at risk of pressure sores, which are caused when there is too much pressure on the same area of skin. To prevent this, you can get special pillows and mattresses that gently support areas that are prone to sores.
- Infection prevention
You can help to slow down the spread of infections (such as colds) with antibacterial gels, wipes and handwashes.
- Oral, foot and hand care
This is an area can too easily be neglected in people with dementia because they simply forget to clean their teeth or cut toenails or hand nails. Having the tools ready to ensure this can be done, such as toothbrush, mouthwash, denture cleaner, nail clippers and nail files with make life easier. For more tips on looking after feet, hands and teeth, click here.
- Back pain
Back pain can be caused by health problems such as arthritis or sciatica, and can be extremely debilitating. Taking steps to reduce this, through anti-inflammatory painkillers, massage and rest will help anyone affected.
- Hearing
If the person with dementia also has hearing problems, that can make life even trickier. It’s important to ensure that they have regular hearing tests, and are kitted out with the relevant equipment to help them, including hearing aids, hearing aid loops, amplified phones, vibrating alarm clocks and flashing doorbells.
- Constipation
This can be a real issue for older people, for a variety of reasons, including taking medication (which can worsen constipation), becoming dehydrated and a poor diet. There are a range of over-the-counter remedies to help ease constipation, but the person you care for also needs a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains to aid digestion.
- Pain relief
If the person you’re caring for has pain in other areas of their body to their back, you may find over-the-counter pain killers and anti-inflammatories such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help.
- Urinary
Urinary tract infections (UTI) are a common problem for older people, and if left untreated, can cause confusion, delirium and memory problems. UTIs are treated with antibiotics, but you can also take steps to help prevent them, including drinking plenty of fluids, particularly cranberry juice, which has traditionally been used to help ease and treat UTI symptoms.
- Respiratory
Ensuring someone can breathe clearly and safely is important for general health and wellbeing, particularly at night. If the person you care for is affected by sleep apnoea (where the muscles and soft tissues in the throat relax and collapse enough to cause a total blockage of the airway; usually for 10 seconds or more) or snoring, you can get special mouthpieces, pillows and breathing apparatus that help keep the airways open while you sleep. If congestion, asthma or breathing problems are an issue, then dehumidifiers and air purifiers may help to create an environment that’s easier to breathe in.
These products are good for:
Boosting health and wellbeing for someone with dementia, and so ensuring that they have a good quality of life.
Good to know
Research by scientists from the University of Southampton found people with Alzheimer’s who caught an infection had twice the rate of cognitive decline as those who did not.

Hospital and palliative care

Your dilemma:
If there’s a chance that someone you care for is likely to go into hospital – and this can and does happen for people with dementia – it’s important that the people there know and understand about their dementia diagnosis.
Products to help
- Identification aids
If the person you’re caring for has to have a spell in hospital, they may become extremely confused about why they’re there and try to wander off. In cases like this, it can be useful to have some form of medical ID bracelet or necklace which will let people know that the person has dementia and an emergency number they can call.
These products are good for:
Providing information to ensure the safety of someone with dementia.
Top tip
Make sure that the number you include on a medical ID bracelet is up to date, or not prone to change. If you think it might change, including the phone number of their registered doctor’s surgery may also be helpful.

Carer health and wellbeing

Your dilemma:
As a carer, you have a lot on your plate looking after someone with dementia, and you want to be able to look after yourself, too. In particular, you’re aware of the importance of reducing your stress levels and finding some inner calm.
Products to help
- Stress balls
It’s normal to find yourself getting stressed and frustrated when caring for someone with dementia. However, it’s also important that you learn how to deal with it. Stress balls can be a useful outlet. They’re soft, squidgy balls that you can squeeze to provide relief and distraction if something is frustrating you. Combine with a few deep breaths for extra relaxation benefits.
- Herbal relaxation and sleep remedies
Many traditional herbal sleep and calming remedies contain ingredients such as hops, valerian and gentian, which have been found to help encourage sleep and aid relaxation.
- Bach flower remedies (for stress)
Made from essences of plants and flowers, these remedies may help you to feel calmer and more in control if you’re having a difficult day.
These products are good for:
Helping you to feel calm and relaxed.
Top tip
These relaxation products can be as useful for the person with dementia as they are for their carer, so think about including some in their care plan.