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Living well with dementia

Living with dementia is life changing, but it shouldn’t stop anyone from continuing to live an independent life for as long as possible.
6 min read
In this article
Living well with dementia Continuing to work Continuing to drive
Helping someone with dementia to live as well as possible Equipment that helps with memory problems Reminiscing

Living well with dementia

Being diagnosed with dementia is a challenge for all concerned. As well as coping with the symptoms and the thoughts of what might lie ahead, there is day-to-day life to continue with.

As much as possible, continue to keep doing what you have always enjoyed doing. You may need to modify activities to within the limits of your ability, but try to live your life as nearly as you always have.

Here are some practical ideas to help you in the early stages of your dementia.

Checklist (ticks)
  • Hang a whiteboard in a prominent position and use it to write down notes and lists.
  • Pin a weekly timetable to the wall containing appointments and activities.
  • Buy a digital clock that is specifically designed to help people experiencing memory loss. Such clocks display the date, time and day of the week.
  • Find ‘homes’ for specific items so that they can always be kept in the same place, and are easier to find. For example, put a bowl in the hallway for keys or a basket in the lounge for TV remote controls.
  • Stick labels on cupboards or drawers as a reminder for where everything is kept. Alternatively, you might prefer to simplify storage, such as keeping out of season clothes and less-used kitchen items elsewhere.
  • Place a list of helpful telephone numbers, such as family members, the doctor's surgery, by the phone or on speed dial.
  • Look at pill minders to help monitor medication.
  • Get an easy-to-use mobile phone with big buttons.
  • Write reminders for important tasks – for example, stick a note inside the front door as a reminder to take house keys when going out, or by the cooker as a prompt to check it’s switched off.
  • Set up direct debits for bills so they continue to be paid.

Exercise options and ideas 

Being active can help to maintain your quality of life and general wellbeing. Exercising can relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, while group activities nurture a sense of belonging and can help stop you feeling isolated.

It’s believed that mental stimulation can help slow down the progression of dementia and there are many different exercise options to explore, such as:

  • Tai Chi
  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Yoga and pilates
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Seated exercises.

Continuing to work

If you are still working when you are diagnosed with dementia, you might need to think about how the diagnosis could affect your ability to do certain tasks, now and in the future. If you feel your condition could have an impact on your job – particularly if your safety or that of others could be compromised – you should tell your employer as soon as possible so a risk assessment can be done.

If you know that the company has an occupational health service, approaching them first could be the best option as they will be able to assess your fitness to work, recommend adaptations and liaise with your health professional.

However, if you’re in doubt about what’s available, contact your HR department. They should be able to tell you if there is an occupational health service and put you in touch with them, or advise on how you should proceed if there isn’t an in-house occupational health service.

If you are caring for someone with dementia and are beginning to find it difficult to work full time, find out about your rights at work.

Continuing to drive

Many people are able to continue driving for some time after a diagnosis of dementia, as long as you are safe to do so. But you must inform the DVLA (or DVLNI in Northern Ireland) and insurance company of your diagnosis.

If you are concerned about a person with dementia's ability to drive, chat with them about their driving and perhaps taking a driving assessment that has been specially-adapted assessment for people with dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society has some useful information about how to organise this assessment as well as driving with dementia.

Helping someone with dementia to live as well as possible

If you're spending time with someone who has been diagnosed with dementia, your instinct may be to start trying to take care of everything, but that’s not always the best way. 

Try to be positive and focus on what the person with dementia can do, not on what they can’t. Focus on their emotional needs and abilities, rather than only seeing the disabilities that their dementia causes.

Here are a few ways that you can give extra support to someone who has recently been diagnosed with dementia.

Checklist (ticks)
  • Support your loved one to keep in regular contact with friends and family, even if you can’t visit in person.
  • Encourage them to continue with any hobbies and social groups. Singing and other forms of music making are increasingly recognised as being powerful therapy for people living with dementia.
  • Sleep is often affected by dementia, so a regular bedtime routine can help. It’s also a good idea to limit naps, caffeine and alcohol. As a family member, friend or carer, you can help keep on top of all these little changes.
  • Getting enough exercise and supporting the person to take care of their health and wellbeing is important, as is attending any scheduled appointments.
  • Listening to their fears and anxieties is very important. When you are talking to someone with dementia it’s often better to avoid giving the impression that you have all the answers.
  • Keep doing those things that you can still enjoy together with friends and family: plan days out that your loved one can come on.
  • Help with small things when you can, such as cooking a meal.
  • Check the home has safety devices installed. Read more about gas detectors and smoke alarms in Which? Home & garden.
  • Investigate assistive technology that could help to keep your loved one safe.
Use our directory to find support groups for carers and people living with dementia.

Equipment that helps with memory problems

Some memory aids are fairly technical, others less so – but all are designed to help with remembering important and safety-critical everyday tasks. Read our guide to memory gadgets that help people with memory loss to stay safer and more independent.

Reminiscing

People with dementia most often lose their recent memories, so they may enjoy talking about their childhood and ‘life before dementia’. 

Sort through photos together: going through family or holiday photos can be a great activity that brings back happy memories. Your loved one might also enjoy putting together a scrapbook of their life, with family photos and experiences. 

Build a life story: talk about your loved one's life (for example, include their family, friends, holidays and homes they have lived in) and use this to create a book together of their life. This is an interesting activity and also helps people who may be caring for them to get to know them better and can help understand responses and behaviours. For example, someone who gets up at 4am every day may have worked as a postman for 30 years, so this is not at all ‘unusual behaviour’.

There are various organisations that support reminiscing, such as Sporting Memories and Singing for the Brain, organised by the Alzheimer’s Society. You can search for support groups like these in our care services directory.

See also our guides to keeping the brain active, which includes cognitive exercises for people with dementia.

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Further reading

Last updated: 04 Jul 2019