Helping your loved one stay healthy

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

Your loved one may find it harder to look after their own physical and mental health because of their dementia. It’s important that they have routine appointments with a GP or other health professionals to keep an eye on things. As the person who is caring for someone with dementia, you can play a big role in helping them to stay well. This section includes tips that could help.

Taking medicines

Your loved one may forget to take their dementia medications and need help with sticking to their treatment. You’ll need to make sure they have enough medicine and are asking for new prescriptions before medicines run out.

A dosage box from your local pharmacy could help with storing and managing dementia medications. Your pharmacist can also help if you have questions about the medicines.

Medicine diary for carers

If you are caring for someone with dementia and helping them take their medicines, downloading our medicine diary for carers could help. You can use it to:

  • remind you what medicines they need to take and when
  • record what medicines they have taken each week

You can print off a new copy for each week. It may help to keep it somewhere where you’ll remember to check it, such as on your fridge or on a door.

Emotional wellbeing

Due to the nature of dementia, every day was different for Dad. So some days were really positive, really good days, where he was quite independent doing things for himself. And other days were really difficult days, really emotional days for Dad, which was obviously more difficult for us, caring for him.” - Emily

People with dementia need emotional support, just like anyone else. Having dementia can be frustrating and upsetting but you can support your loved one by:

  • spending time with them
  • encouraging them
  • listening to their distress

Particularly in the early stages of dementia, your loved one may realise that they are forgetting things, finding thinking more difficult and are less able to manage. This can be frightening. If they talk to you about this, it’s more helpful to acknowledge their fears and worries than trying to make them feel better by telling them everything is fine. Then remind them of things they can still do and encourage them to concentrate on those. If you can get them involved in tasks that they’re likely to succeed at, however small, you will be helping them to feel better and give them back some sense of control and satisfaction.

Thinking about the future can also be frightening. Again, it’s best to acknowledge this and sympathise. Then encourage them to be positive and focus on the present moment.

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Diet and exercise

Eating and drinking well

Make sure that your loved one eats a healthy, balanced diet and drinks enough to stay hydrated. Not eating well could lead to weight loss, tiredness and a higher risk of infections. Dehydration could cause problems such as headaches, extra confusion, urinary tract infections or constipation.

Because of the dementia, your loved one may sometimes find it hard to recognise or communicate that they’re hungry or thirsty. It’s important to offer them food and drink often. If other family members and friends are around, you could make sure you keep each other updated about when your loved one eats and drinks.

If your loved one is losing weight, or if you would like advice about their diet, speak to your GP. They may be able to refer you to a dietitian, who can give advice that is tailored to your loved one’s needs.

People with dementia also often have practical difficulties with eating and drinking; for example, with holding cutlery. Our section about daily living has tips about coping with these problems.

Being physically active

Physical activity is an important part of care for people with dementia. It may help them to stay more mobile and carry out everyday tasks for longer. Exercise is great, but even everyday household activity, gardening or walking around the shops can make a difference.

Sight and hearing

Problems with eyesight and hearing are very common in later life. But a person with dementia may not realise when these changes happen. Having sight or hearing impairments can add to their sense of confusion and may mean they need more help in everyday life. Helping them to have regular hearing and sight examinations can pick up any problems early on.

It’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes problems that seem to be about sight or hearing are actually caused by changes to the brain. For example, a person may seem not to see something because their brain is not processing what they’re seeing correctly. Or they may appear not to have heard what's been said because of changes to their brain, rather than to their hearing.

On the other hand, the opposite can also happen – where poor hearing can make a person appear more forgetful than they actually are. If you’re unsure about what may be causing the problem, help your loved one to make an appointment with their GP or dementia specialist.

Dental care

It's important to help your loved one take care of their teeth. This will not only help them to be more comfortable, but could also help avoid behavioural problems that may be caused by tooth pain.

Your loved one may find it easier to use an electric toothbrush, or a toothbrush with a handle that’s easy to hold. Over time, they may need you to brush their teeth for them. A dentist or hygienist can give you guidance about doing this and about general dental health.

Managing other health conditions

Most people who have dementia are also living with at least one other health condition. This is partly because dementia generally affects people later in life. Common examples include heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes or problems with muscles, bones or joints.

Having dementia may make it harder for your loved one to manage other health conditions independently. They may rely on your help, for example, with taking multiple medicines or with coordinating their appointments.

When you attend GP or hospital appointments with your loved one, make sure the health professional knows you are their carer. Knowing this, they should involve you in decisions and give you information about how you can help.

You should also make sure the health professional knows when there is more than one health problem – ideally this information should be passed between services, but unfortunately this doesn’t always happen.

GPs can be a good source of advice about managing multiple conditions at the same time. If you have questions about how different medications might interact and how to take them together, your local pharmacist should also be able to help.

Providing dementia support to someone with several health problems can be very stressful. Don’t forget to look after yourself too. See our section on living well as a carer for tips about what could help.

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Related information

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    • Bunn F, Burn AM, Goodman C, et al. Comorbidity and dementia: a mixed-method study on improving health care for people with dementia (CoDem). HS&DR 2016; 4(8). doi:10.3310/hsdr04080
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  • 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