Living well with dementia – Why a diagnosis doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying life
A dementia diagnosis doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying life. Whether you have dementia yourself or you are caring for someone with dementia, there are many things you can do to make life easier. We’ve compiled some of the best advice out there to help you to live well with dementia.
1. Prioritise socialising and relationships
You may notice that some people start to treat you differently if you have dementia. This is often simply because people don’t know how to help. It’s best if you talk openly about your dementia and tell people exactly what you need from them. You should expect to see some changes in your relationships.
Ask questions to clarify
If you are struggling to follow a conversation or understand something, it’s OK to ask for clarification. People with dementia can feel frustrated that they aren’t able to think as quickly as they once did. But this is not a reason to give up. Ask people to talk more slowly if you are struggling to follow. Carers and ExtraCare’s Locksmiths, dementia support workers, should be sympathetic and willing to speak slowly, clarify things, and repeat things as many times as necessary.
Don’t let other people take over
If you have dementia, you may find that people in your life will try and take over to make your life simpler. Even if they have the best intentions and are only trying to help, this can feel patronising. The truth is that it’s important for you to keep your independence in as many areas of your life as possible. If you are capable of doing something yourself, then let your carer know that although you appreciate their help, you don’t need it every situation.
Stay in touch with people
For people with dementia it is all too easy to become isolated, especially in old age. For your happiness, it’s vital that you remain proactive. Do your best to maintain relationships with those around you, whether it’s family, friends, neighbours, or anyone else you would expect to see regularly.
Join new social groups
It’s never too late to join new social groups, there are a whole range of activities on offer at ExtraCare villages to get involved in and there are groups designed especially to help people with dementia get the most from life. ExtraCare’s award-winning Enriched Opportunities Programme (EOP) hosts activities specifically for those living with dementia. Memory Cafés are great places to meet people who you can share your experiences and concerns with. As music is so strongly connected to memory, groups such as choirs can be great to get involved with. At ExtraCare’s five Birmingham village, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) deliver a Musical Exchange programme inviting those with dementia and their partners to participate in interactive music sessions with three to four professional musicians.
2. Maintain your health
If you have been diagnosed with dementia, it’s important that you continue to look after your physical health. As well as keeping your body strong and healthy, looking after your physical health can often make you feel better emotionally, benefitting your mental health, and improving your general sense of wellbeing.
Stay physically active
At all stages in life, it’s important to remain physically active. This is equally true for people who are living with dementia. Physical activity doesn’t need to be especially strenuous to benefit your health, but it’s vital that you’re doing something. Whether it’s walking, exercises like Otago classes, which are available in most ExtraCare villages, or getting out to work on the garden, physical activity has so many benefits. Not only does exercise help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, but it helps maintain muscle strength, which is essential to preventing falls.
Keeping a healthy diet is important for people with dementia. Many people with dementia experience a loss of appetite, so you must be mindful to make sure you are getting the nutrition that your body and mind need to stay healthy. At the same time, it’s important that you enjoy food. Forcing yourself to eat isn’t an effective long-term strategy. If you find that you prefer snacking on finger foods, then go with that. And remember – food tastes best when enjoyed with others. Try and take mealtimes a social occasion whenever possible.
People with dementia can sometimes experience disturbed sleep. However, there are some general rules to follow which allow sleep to come more easily. First, you should avoid napping, as this makes you less tired at night. You should avoid caffeine late in the day, and perhaps even try limiting caffeinated tea and coffee to the morning only. Contrary to popular belief, drinking alcohol late in the day is also bad for your sleep and should be avoided. Avoid stimulation like TV late at night, and try to read something gentle instead.
Get regular health check-ups
Don’t be shy about popping into see your ExtraCare Well-being Advisor. If you have any concerns at all about your health, you should see a professional right away. Don’t delay, because many health problems are best addressed as soon as possible.
Be mindful of depression
Depression affects many people with dementia. The best way to avoid depression associated with dementia is to focus on creating an active, social, and purposeful lifestyle. Keep up activities, focus on what you can do, focus on what you enjoy, and find people to talk to as much as possible. In a nutshell, try and do all the things mentioned in this article! If you are struggling with depression, make sure you get support. ExtraCare’s EOP Locksmiths can offer specialist support for those living with dementia and common mental health conditions.
3. Keep doing enjoyable activities
As much as possible, keep doing the things you enjoy. Sometimes dementia may make certain activities more difficult, but it’s important to resist the urge to give up. You may have to change the activity slightly to make it easier, but that’s OK. Do what you can to find enjoyment, and try to be open to new activities. Contrary to popular belief, the mind can benefit from new challenges at any stage in life!
Having dementia doesn’t stop you from being able to help others around you. For example, at ExtraCare villages, you can volunteer to help in many ways including on reception, in gym or bistro. If you can manage physical tasks, from cooking to cleaning, there’s lots to be done. If you are looking for a more sociable role, there are always residents and guests to the village to greet and chat to. Why not offer to lend a listening ear to a younger friend or relative? Even if your memory is getting rusty, there’s nothing to stop you from being there to listen to others as they talk through events in their life.
Join dementia-friendly groups
There is an ever-grow range of dementia-friendly activities and outings on offer today from a range of public and cultural institutions. Many museums, art galleries, and cinemas now offer regular events for people with dementia to get out and enjoy culture and learning in a dementia-safe environment. There are dementia-friendly swimming sessions, walks, and other gentle sports. If you enjoy music, why not join a dementia-friendly choir? The good news is that public facilities are organising more activities than ever for people with dementia.
Stimulate your brain with reading, puzzles, and games
Keep your brain active with the mental work you enjoy the most. Whether you enjoy reading novels, poetry, or the news, it’s all good to keep your mind active, and there are plenty of resources readily available in ExtraCare libraries. Puzzles like Sudoku or crosswords ensure that you are always challenging yourself, and preserving your mental agility. Games like Scrabble, chess, or cards make sure your problem-solving skills don’t get rusty. While these activities might seem trivial, they are actually great ways of keeping your brain in shape.
4. Plan your home environment
To make life with dementia less confusing, simple planning and practical steps around your home can help you to live well. Follow these steps to make your home dementia-safe and comfortable to maintain your independence and freedom for as long as possible.
Putting labels or notes on cupboards can help you remember where things are and make life easier. If you find yourself getting frustrated with forgetfulness, help yourself out by simply labelling things. This can be as simple as labelling your kitchen cupboards with words like ‘tea and coffee’, ‘plates and bowls’, or ‘wholefoods’.
Carry a notebook
Carry a notebook to write things down. Whether it’s appointments, social engagements, or just things that have popped into your head, it can really help to have a notebook with you to jog your short-term memory.
Put things in obvious places
It can be frustrating to lose or misplace things. Make things easier for yourself by designating an ‘obvious’ place to keep important objects. Put a large bowl in your hallway to keep your keys, and get in the habit of putting them there. Little things like this can make your day-to-day life much simpler.
Put important numbers by the phone
Make a list of important phone numbers and keep it by the phone. This list should include your doctor, family, friends, and emergency numbers. Include anyone who you contact regularly, and anyone who you would need to contact in an emergency. There’s no need to scramble around for phone numbers. Just keep them all in one place, on a clearly written physical list by your phone.
Avoid tripping hazards or disorientating colours
Avoid trips, falls, and other accidents by removing rugs and other tripping hazards. If you aren’t as steady on your feet as you once were, then it’s best to remove risks around the home. In some cases, you should also think about mirrors. Mirrors can be disorienting and for people who no longer recognise themselves, can be distressing.
5. Get care and support
It’s vital that you look for care and support if you need it. Living with dementia isn’t easy, and it’s important that you admit if there are things you are struggling with.
ExtraCare’s retirement villages offer you the ability to live independently, with care if you need it. Find out more about retirement villages and care services.
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