Living Well with Dementia

A dementia diagnosis changes everything, it will profoundly affect the individual diagnosed and those around them – there is no sugar-coating the reality of this. However, it does not mean that life stops, many people diagnosed with dementia can live well for many years and enjoy much of what life has to offer.

Every dementia journey is unique to the individual, so making a plan to deal with dementia needs to take into account the life that was being led pre-diagnosis – your dementia, your plan.

Here are some things to consider, some, none or all of which might be applicable to your situation.

Follow a routine wherever possible.
Try and get into the habit of doing the same things, be they leisure, chores, taking medication, mealtimes etc at the same time each day/week. Doing this brings order to each day and the routine is both reassuring and can actually stimulate memory. As the condition progresses there are practical things that can be done to enable someone to maintain a routine. Carrying a notebook to write down daily tasks, sticking notes up in prominent places as reminders, putting keys, phones and bags in the same place every time so that they can be found easily, making a list of important telephone numbers and contact details and put them by the telephone and in wallets and or handbags.

Stay active & eat healthily.
Staying active both physically and mentally is vital after a dementia diagnosis. Physical activity can help improve self-sufficiency, self-confidence, and cognition. It can also help to build or maintain muscle strength and balance which has an impact on how long people stay mobile and ultimately can continue living independently. Getting out of the house to exercise also provides an opportunity to interact with other people and one’s surroundings, maintaining social contact is really valuable for anyone’s dementia journey.  Exercise your mind, read a newspaper daily, do puzzles, crosswords and word games, studies have shown that stimulating mental activity can slow the progression of the condition.

Also think about your diet, smoking and alcohol intake. Alcohol consumption and smoking should be moderated and in the case of smoking eliminated altogether if possible, there are studies currently looking at the links between smoking and dementia, initial findings indicate that it may adversely impact on both the development and progression of dementia. Eating well is crucial to our health overall, and even more so as we age – a well-balanced diet that is high in fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean meats should be followed wherever possible. Equally important is staying hydrated, and dehydration can be a challenge for older people, especially those with dementia. Problems with memory can lead to people not drinking enough water which can have an adverse effect on overall wellbeing. Dehydration can cause symptoms such as confusion, fatigue, and anxiety and exacerbate them further where they already exist.

Talk to family and friends.
Don’t keep your dementia a secret. If you can’t face telling everyone at once then find someone you feel safe in confiding in and start there. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself whilst you come to terms with the diagnosis, yes it’s important to take time to process what is happening but do not let this become an excuse to stop interacting with the world around you –  stay in touch with family and friends.

You will need help.
Look at putting a support network in place as early as possible, as dementia develops your ability to deal with new face and arrangements will diminish. Make a plan and involve family, friends, neighbours, your GP, social services and any other relevant agencies. Your initial diagnosis will kick start a process that might mean that social services and other agencies get involved in your care, but don’t necessarily wait for things to happen if you can be proactive do so and be involved in making your care plan. There will also be a determination at some point as to whether you will have to fund your care or whether it will be funded by the state, Although there are national rules that cover who is required to pay for care and support, there are also some local variations, you will find more information about this in our legal and money matters section

Don’t stop living your life and making plans for the future.
You may still be able to work, talk to your employer about your diagnosis and if you want to stay at work together you can explore the ways in which that can happen – your employer has a legal responsibility to help you continue working.

If you have a dementia diagnosis it does not mean you will have to give up driving immediately. You will be required to inform the DVLA and your insurance company about the diagnosis. With input from your doctor a determination will be made regarding your fitness to drive and only then will a decision be taken about whether you have to stop or be allowed to continue driving.

A dementia diagnosis does not stop you from going on holiday. If you are in the early stages you can still go to new and exciting places, it just requires a little more planning. As you progress through your journey new places might become confusing and at times overwhelming, so sticking to places that are familiar might be more appropriate. There are holiday companies and tour operators who cater specifically for people with dementia so you may even be able to go on holiday alone. Using a specialist tour operator ensures you will be in an environment that understands what you need to be able to have an enjoyable holiday.