Daily living


Expert reviewer Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa Global Director of Dementia Care
Next review due September 2020

Small, practical changes can make a big difference to everyday life when you are caring for someone with dementia. Here are some real-life stories from people who have been there.

"What I remember with my mother is that routine is important. When something happens out of routine, it knocks her back a bit and she’s not so sure of herself."

"My nan has a calendar and writes down everything. And she has always done that, so it really helps."

"I go to the local shops and explain the situation to them, so they will understand when my father-in-law comes in. People will look out for him. They’ll say, ‘Are you alright? Your usual newspaper? Milk today?"

"We did have some stop signs on the doors, to stop dad from going out. And we did have a special Sky remote that we used, that just remembered some of dad’s favourite channels, because he liked watching TV a lot at home."

Health professionals can also have some good practical tips and stories about how to provide dementia support. Here, Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa Global Director of Dementia Care, shares how one of his patients found a personal solution to forgetfulness.

She hit on the idea of not putting things away. Because then she would have to remember where she'd put them, and if she couldn't, she would waste time searching – getting more and more frustrated in the process. Instead, her home began to resemble a supermarket, with much of what she bought laid out seemingly on display on kitchen units, tables and even on the stairs. (‘I'm always up and down, so it's a great place to spot things.’) Her boys were mystified as to how all this untidiness was in some way making their mum's life easier. But as I said to them, ‘What is clutter to one person, is another's solution to not being able to remember.

Dressing

Try to involve your loved one in getting dressed as much as possible. This can allow them to keep a sense of identity and dignity. If they need your support, make sure you offer it tactfully and sensitively. Here are some ideas that may make things easier for a person living with dementia.

  • Establish a regular time of day for getting dressed. Having a routine can be comforting for people with dementia.
  • Leave enough time for getting dressed. That way neither of you will feel rushed or stressed.
  • Offer simple choices. For example, ‘Would you like to wear the red jumper?’ rather than ‘What would you like to wear?’
  • Find a way to deal with mistakes. For example, you may be able to laugh together if clothes are put on inside out.
  • Lay clothes out in the order that they should be put on, starting with underwear and ending with a top.
  • To make dressing easier, you may find it helpful to change the fastenings on your loved one’s clothes from buttons and zips to Velcro or elastic.
  • Try labelling drawers and cupboards with names or pictures of the clothes inside them.

Grooming

It’s important to let your loved one have a say in their appearance, whenever possible. If you can, why not treat them to a trip to the hairdressers, beauty salon, or barbers? It may be something they’ve done regularly and that they wish to continue doing. As your loved one’s condition gets worse, you might want to think about getting a hairdresser or manicurist to come to the house.

 Help when you need it

Choosing a care home can be stressful, especially if you’ve never done it before. Where do you start? Well, right here. Our helpful understanding care advisers offer free advice on anything from funding to finding just the right home. Find out more >

 Help when you need it

Washing

As the dementia progressed, Dad got worse and worse with things that he could do independently on his own. So then we were having to do more and more things. Day-to-day things; washing him, cooking for him.” - Emily

If your loved one needs help with washing and bathing, this can be a change that is difficult for both of you to adjust to. Offering help in a sensitive way is important. Understandably, your loved one may feel uncomfortable bathing in front of you or being undressed by you. You may also find it uncomfortable. It is important to protect their privacy and dignity wherever possible.

If you’re helping a loved one wash or bathe, the following tips may help.

  • Be organised, making sure you have everything you need before you start.
  • Involve your loved one in decisions; for example whether they would prefer having a bath or a shower, or which soap they want to use.
  • Check that the floor isn’t wet so that neither you nor your loved one slips.
  • Make sure that the room is warm before they undress.
  • Support your loved one in doing as much as they can, such as drying themselves.
  • Make sure you explain everything you’re doing while helping your loved one.
  • For washing hair, a hand-held shower may be helpful, or you may want to rinse their hair in the sink.
  • Check that the water temperature isn’t too hot or too cold.
  • Thoroughly dry your loved one after washing, paying special attention to skin folds. This can help to prevent skin from becoming chafed. Check for any sore or red areas on their skin while they’re undressed.
  • Encourage your loved one to maintain a washing routine.

Here’s a list of equipment that you may find helpful for washing and bathing:

  • handrails on the walls near the shower, bath or toilet
  • non-slip mats that can be placed inside the bath or shower
  • seats that can be placed in the bath or shower

Your loved one does not necessarily need to have a full body wash every day. However, they should wash their face, genitals and bottom every day. A sponge bath can sometimes be a good alternative to a full bath or shower.

Our page about looking after someone with dementia has information about making the bathroom a safe environment.

Eating and drinking

Your loved one's eating habits could change as the dementia progresses. They may:

  • find it hard to use cutlery
  • struggle with coordination and getting food into their mouth
  • become restless during meals and find it hard to stay sitting down
  • find it harder to communicate that they're hungry or thirsty
  • have difficulty choosing what to eat
  • forget to eat or drink

Try to encourage your loved one to eat independently for as long as possible. Finger foods can be a great way to do this. They can also be carried around if your loved one finds it hard to stay sitting down during meals.

Think about adapting cutlery to make it easier to use; for example, adding grips. Non-slip placemats, and plates and bowls with higher sides, could help to avoid spills.

Visual or sensory clues might help your loved one to recognise that it’s time to eat. For example, putting colourful salt and pepper pots on the table, or letting your loved one smell what you’re cooking. It may help to engage them if you get them involved in preparing and cooking the food.

Eating and drinking well are important parts of staying healthy. Our section on helping your loved one stay healthy has some tips you may find useful.

Using the toilet

People living with dementia may need help with finding and using the toilet. They may also find it difficult explaining that they need to use the toilet. As with dressing and washing, needing help with this can be upsetting for your loved one. It’s important to help them be independent and give them privacy when you can.

It can help to look out for clues that the person you care for needs the toilet. These clues may be unique to them as individual. For example, they might pull at their clothing or make a particular sound. It can also help to look out for patterns in how often they might need the toilet. They might, for example, regularly need to use the toilet half an hour after breakfast.

Keeping the toilet door open or ajar, or using a decoration to make the toilet door distinct from other doors around it, may help the person with dementia to find it.

The person may need help with one part of going to the toilet, but not others. For example, they might forget what to do with the toilet paper once they have used it. Working out which parts of the process they’re having trouble with can help you know when to step in and help, and when you can leave the person in privacy.

Equipment

To make getting on and off the toilet easier, consider installing handrails or a raised seat. If the toilet is upstairs or difficult to get to, think about getting a commode.

Incontinence

Particularly as dementia becomes more advanced, a person with dementia may lose control of their bowels or bladder (become incontinent).

Many shops sell continence pads, which may help to manage this. It's worth speaking to your GP about what else may help. If the person you care for is struggling to use the toilet because they have mobility problems, your GP may be able to refer to social services. They could provide aids and equipment to help.

It’s also worth being aware that incontinence can be caused by other health problems. This can include constipation or a bladder infection. Signs of a bladder infection can include increased confusion, unexpected incontinence or needing to use the toilet very frequently. Some medications for dementia may also cause incontinence as a side-effect.

Your emotions

You may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about having to help with your loved one’s toilet needs. Feeling this way is common and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Try not to let this stop you from telling people who could help (such as health professionals or other family members) about the help you’re giving. They may be able to offer you support.

Help from technology

New technology could make your role as a carer easier. Here are some examples of technology that could help you support your loved one living with dementia.

  • Apps for your mobile phone or tablet – a good example is the Jointly App by Carers UK. You can use it to keep notes, track medication and communicate with other people who are looking after your loved one.
  • Telecare – this is where you place sensors around the house. When you are away from home, they can monitor things like your loved one’s movements around the house. If they detect that your loved one has fallen over or left the house, for example, the sensors send a message to you (sometimes through a pager or a monitoring centre) to let you know.
  • Telehealth – this includes sensors and monitors that can check on your loved one's health; for example, their blood pressure, heart rate or temperature. The information is checked by a health professional who can alert you if they have any concerns.

The website AT Dementia is a useful source of information about assistive technology.


About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. This is because we believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and wellbeing.

Our information is guided by the principles of The Information Standard and complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. We are also a proud member of the Patient Information Forum.

PIF member logo  This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.

Learn more about our editorial team and principles >

Related information

    • Dressing. Alzheimer's Society. www.alzheimers.org.uk, last reviewed April 2015
    • Alzheimer's dementia. Management approach. BMJ Best Practice. bestpractice.bmj.com, last updated April 2017
    • Bathing. Alzheimer's Association. www.alz.org, accessed 25 July 2017.
    • Washing and bathing. Alzheimer's Society. www.alzheimers.org.uk, accessed 25 July 2017
    • Eating well: supporting older people and older people with dementia. The Caroline Walker Trust, 2011. www.cwt.org.uk
    • When people with dementia experience problems related to using the toilet. Social Institute for Excellence. www.scie.org.uk, last updated May 2015
    • Managing toilet problems and incontinence. Alzheimer's Society. www.alzheimers.org.uk, last reviewed September 2016
    • Improving continence care for people with dementia living at home. Alzheimer Europe, 2014. www.alzheimer-europe.org
    • Dementia: supporting people with dementia and their carers in health and social care. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), CG42 2006, last updated September 2016. www.nice.org.uk
    • Supportive care for the patient with dementia. Practical Dementia Care (3rd ed online). Oxford Medicine Online. oxfordmedicine.com, published May 2016
    • Dementia and driving. GP Update Handbook (online). GP Update Ltd, gpcpd.com, accessed July 2017
    • Dementia and driving. Gov.UK. www.gov.uk, accessed July 2017
    • Medical conditions, disabilities and driving. Gov.UK. www.gov.uk, accessed July 2017
    • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. Assessing fitness to drive: a guide for medical professionals. Gov.UK. www.gov.uk, last updated June 2017
    • Carer's assessment. Carers UK. www.carersuk.org, accessed July 2017
    • Carers and telecare report. Carers UK. September 2012. www.carersuk.org
    • Jointly App. Carers UK. www.carersuk.org, accessed August 2017
    • Telecare and telehealth. Carers UK. www.carersuk.org, accessed August 2017
  • Reviewed by Graham Pembrey, Lead Health Editor, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2017
    Expert reviewer Professor Graham Stokes, Bupa Global Director of Dementia Care
    Next review due September 2020



Did our information help you?

We’d love to hear what you think. Our short survey takes just a few minutes to complete and helps us to keep improving our health information.

ajax-loader