Dementia guide

Living well with dementia

Dementia: Singing for the Brain

Media last reviewed: 07/04/2014

Next review due: 07/04/2016

Dementia can affect the whole life of the person who has it, as well as their family. If you have been diagnosed with dementia, or you are caring for someone with the condition, remember that there is advice and support available to help you live well.

Even if you have suspected for a while that you or someone you love might have dementia, the diagnosis may come as a shock. People with dementia should try to remain as independent as possible and continue to enjoy their usual activities.

The symptoms of dementia will usually get gradually worse. How quickly this occurs will depend on the general health of the person with dementia and on the type of dementia they have.

Over time, people with dementia will need help to cope at home and they may eventually need residential care in a nursing home. It is natural to feel worried about the future, but you are not alone – whether you have dementia or you care for someone with the condition. The NHS, social services and voluntary organisations can all provide advice and support to help you and your family.

Look after your health

Living a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, including people with dementia, and is the best way to help prevent dementia. Eating well and exercising are important for everyone to live well.

Changes in eating habits can occur, particularly if someone with dementia is struggling to find the words to ask for food, which can result in weight loss and poor nutrition.

The Live Well section of NHS Choices has health and wellbeing information and advice for everyone.

Maintain a social life

It’s easy to feel isolated and alone if you or someone you care for has dementia. Keeping in contact with others is good for people with dementia because it helps them to keep active and stimulated. Some people find it difficult to talk about their own or a family member’s dementia, or want to help but don’t know how.

If a friend or a family member finds it hard to talk to you, don’t lose touch. Make the first move, explain that you still need to see them and tell them how they can help you. You may also find it helpful to join a local group of people with dementia and their families. You may not be someone who would normally join a group, but being part of a community of people with dementia or a group for families who have a member with dementia can be helpful. You are likely to be able to share experiences and gain insight and useful tips from others who are going through or have been through similar situations.

Read more about activities for people with dementia, and communicating with someone with dementia.

Practical tips

  • keep a diary and write down things you want to remember
  • pin a weekly timetable to the wall
  • put your keys in an obvious place such as a large bowl in the hall
  • have a daily newspaper delivered to remind you of the date and day
  • put labels on cupboards or drawers
  • place helpful telephone numbers by the phone
  • write reminders to yourself – for example, put a note on the front door to take your keys
  • programme people’s names and numbers into your phone
  • install safety devices, such as gas detectors and smoke alarms
  • put bills on direct debit so you don't forget to pay them
  • a dosset box can be helpful for remembering which medications to take and when 

Try to sleep well

People with dementia often experience disturbed sleep. They may wake up during the night or be restless. These problems may get worse as the illness progresses. People with dementia may also have painful illnesses, such as arthritis, that cause, or contribute to, sleep problems.

Some medication can cause sleepiness during the day and interfere with sleep at night. Sleeping pills can be used with care in people with dementia. However, "sleep hygiene" measures are best for people with dementia. These rules include having no naps during the day, keeping regular bedtimes and avoiding alcohol or caffeine at night.

Feeling down

People with dementia can experience mood swings. They can feel sad or angry at times, or scared and frustrated as the disease progresses. If you or a family member have dementia, you may find it difficult to stay positive. Remember that you are not alone and that help and support are available. Talk to someone about your worries. This could be a family member or friend, a member of your local dementia support group or your GP, who can refer you to a counsellor in your area.

If you are struggling to cope with low mood, stress or anxiety, you might find the NHS Choices Moodzone helpful. It contains practical, easy-to-understand information and advice on how to deal with mood-related problems. If you think someone with dementia is experiencing clinical depression, be sure to mention it to their GP.

Keep active and occupied

People with dementia should continue to enjoy their hobbies and interests. These activities are enjoyable and keep people alert and stimulated so they maintain an interest in life. Do not rule out an activity simply because you or your family member have dementia. Activities may change as the illness gets worse, but people with dementia can and should continue to enjoy their spare time.

Self care

Self care is an integral part of daily life and involves taking responsibility for your own health and wellbeing with the support of those involved in your care. It includes the actions you take every day to stay fit, maintain good physical and mental health and prevent illness or accidents, as well as the effective care of minor ailments and long-term conditions.

People living with long-term conditions can benefit enormously from receiving self care support. They can live longer, have less pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue, have a better quality of life and be more active and independent.

Read more about self care.

Page last reviewed: 19/06/2013

Next review due: 19/06/2015

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Media last reviewed: 11/01/2013

Next review due: 11/01/2015