Why healthy living is important for people with dementia
While diet, physical exercise and activities that stimulate the brain are not a miracle cure, they can improve quality of life for people with dementia and in some cases slow its progression.
However, it’s important to realise that some of the attention-grabbing headlines about dementia are not always based on firm clinical evidence.
Much of the advice is common sense, and as a general rule of thumb, if something is good for our hearts, it’s good for our brains.
People living with dementia should continue to access local services and have regular checks with their GP.
Health promotion is essential to minimise the risks of complications which may impact on health and well-being and exacerbate the symptoms of dementia.
Problems with vision and hearing can add to the confusion of dementia, so ensure regular appointments.
Also, regular visits to the chiropodist can ensure good foot health. Poor foot care is a cause of falls and will discourage the person from mobilising.
Dental checks to promptly treat or manage problems with teeth, gums or dentures may counter pain or discomfort, difficulties with eating or drinking.
Diet and dementia
A healthy diet is important for overall health.
Some people with dementia may eat too much and gain weight, which may have a knock-on effect on their mobility.
In other cases, people may become undernourished.
This can cause fatigue, confusion, irritability, constipation, muscle weakness and increased risk of infection.
Some problems with eating and drinking are caused by changes in a person’s ability to manage the food in their mouth.
They may experience problems with chewing and swallowing. Their tastes may have changed. People often favour sweet foods or may have changes to their appetite.
If you notice any changes, you must refer people for expert advice from speech and language therapists and/or dieticians.
Simple changes may make a big difference, such as changing a person’s diet, fortifying food, giving food more often in small quantities.
However we must take expert advice.
The importance of exercise
Staying physically active is also important.
You should encourage people to move about in their own home and the wider community.
Physical activities may include structured classes or could be just a gentle walk in the garden.
Choosing an activity that motivates the person is the key, and you should encourage them to do what they’ve always done to keep fit.
Many leisure centres provide specialist support for older people or people with a disability, free of charge, under the Welsh Government National Exercise Referral Scheme.
Local clubs may run balance and fitness classes, such as Elderfit.
‘Green exercise’ appears to have additional benefits to people with dementia.
This means exercising in the open air, perhaps walk in the garden, a run in the park or taking the dog for a walk.
Enjoying it with friends, is better still.
Age Cymru delivers low impact function training (LIFT), a series of activities and games for people over 50.