Living well with dementia

Dementia can affect all aspects of a person's life, as well as their family's. 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 shouldn't simply stop doing what they enjoy in life; instead, they 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 even need residential care in a nursing home eventually. 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. NHS and local council care services and voluntary organisations can all provide advice and support to help you and your family.

Look after your health when you have dementia

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.

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.

Maintaining a social life when you have dementia

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 family member finds it hard to talk to you, make the first move and 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 can share experiences and gain insight and useful tips from others who are going through or have been through similar situations.

Practical tips to help if you have dementia include:

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

Ways to combat sleep problems in dementia

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. These rules include having no naps during the day, keeping regular bedtimes and avoiding alcohol or caffeine at night.

Mood and dementia

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 mental wellbeing section 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.

Keeping active and occupied when you have dementia

People with dementia should continue to enjoy their hobbies and interests as far as possible. These activities may keep a person with dementia alert and stimulated, so that they maintain an interest in life.

Don't 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.

Telecare Self-Check online tool

Visit the Telecare Self-Check online tool to find the right support for you in your area. This easy to use online tool allows you to find helpful information on telecare services that could help you live independently at home for longer.

Staying independent

Being diagnosed with dementia will have a big impact on your life. You and your family may worry about how long you can care for yourself, particularly if you live alone. People with dementia can remain independent for some time, but will need support from family and friends.

Living at home when you have dementia

In the early stages of dementia, many people are able to look after their homes in the same way as before their diagnosis. However, as the illness gets worse, it is likely that someone who has dementia will find it difficult to look after their home and they may need help with daily activities, such as housework and shopping. The home of a person with dementia may also need to be adapted to enable them to stay safe, mobile and independent.

Living alone with dementia

It’s good to stay independent for as long as possible. Many people with dementia continue to live successfully on their own for some time. However, be aware that, as your condition progresses, you will need extra support to help you cope, and it’s better to get this in place early.

Talk to family, friends and health professionals about how they can help you to stay independent. They can advise on how to cope with practical tasks, such as shopping. Find out about the local support services that can help you manage in your home – for example, by doing laundry and supervising meals.

Working when you have dementia

Coping at work can be worrying for people with dementia. You should speak to your employer as soon as you feel ready. You can also get advice from the disability employment adviser at your local job centre, your trade union or your local Citizens Advice Bureau. If you decide to leave work, seek advice about your pensions and benefits.

You could continue to work or return to work by asking your employer if you can change your workload. Your local disability employment adviser can help and advise you.

Driving

Some people with dementia prefer to give up driving because they find it stressful, but others continue driving for some time. To continue driving, you must inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) that you have dementia.

The DVLA will ask for medical reports and possibly a special driving assessment to decide whether you can continue driving.

Read more about driving and dementia on the Alzheimer Scotland website.

People with dementia must give up driving when their symptoms become bad enough to make them unsafe on the road. This is to protect themselves, their passengers and other road users.

Assistive technology for people with dementia

Assistive technology is available for people with dementia or other conditions that affect memory. AT Dementia is an organisation that provides access to technology aimed specifically at people with dementia, including:

  • daily living aids – special utensils to help people eat and drink
  • stand-alone devices – aids that can be used without being linked to a monitoring centre or carer
  • telecare – sensors or detectors that automatically send a signal to a carer or monitoring centre by telephone; you can read more about telecare on Care Information Scotland

Telecare Self-Check online tool

Visit the Telecare Self-Check online tool to find the right support for you in your area. This easy to use online tool allows you to find helpful information on telecare services that could help you live independently at home for longer.

Relationships

As dementia progresses, your relationships are almost certain to change.

It is 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 can help keep them 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 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.

If you have dementia yourself, it's important to tell your family and friends so they understand what is happening. If you find this difficult, you could ask your doctor to discuss your symptoms with your family. This way, as your symptoms progress they may better understand why you may not always remember them.

Family, friends and carers of people with dementia

As a family member or friend, you may find the person with dementia becomes unable to perform certain tasks or the roles they once did, such as handling bills or general household tasks. So it's important to start making plans as soon as possible after a dementia diagnosis.

We need to communicate to express our needs, likes and dislikes. If making our thoughts known becomes a problem as it does in dementia, it can be very frustrating. Frustration can lead to difficult-seeming behaviour. And if this behaviour helps a person with dementia get what they want, they may repeat it in future.

If you're looking after someone who has dementia, you may have feelings of grief or loss even though the person you're caring for is still alive. This could happen because dementia is a life-limiting condition (it stops you doing things you would normally do, without reasonable hope of a cure) or perhaps the personality of the person with dementia has been affected by their condition.

Although not everyone experiences this "anticipatory grief", people who do can feel the same emotions and sense of mourning as if the person had actually died.

Dementia does not necessarily stop you enjoying relationships, or even your sex life. Some couples find they can still be close, even if other abilities have deteriorated. But sometimes dementia can increase or reduce previous sexual feelings, and you or your partner may find this distressing.

Relationships, dementia and residential care

Going into residential care is a difficult decision for anyone, regardless of the age or level of disability of the person going into care. And although by going into care they enter a protected environment, this doesn't stop their ordinary human needs.

If a person with dementia goes to stay in a care home, they will need to maintain existing relationships, even at a distance. They may develop new relationships with people in their new home.

Wanting to continue having a loving relationship with a partner, whether physical or not, will not automatically stop when they get diagnosed with dementia, or even if they have to stay in a care home.

Physically intimate sexual relationships may not end when someone with dementia goes into a care home. However, care homes have a duty to protect vulnerable adults, such as those with dementia, and staff will have to balance this with partners' rights to a fulfilling emotional and sexual life. While it may be hard to talk about, it is something that may need to be discussed with the care home manager.

Alzheimer Scotland has detailed information about dementia and sexual relationships, including adapting to changes in sexual behaviour, capacity to consent to sexual relationships, and what to do in cases of suspected sexual abuse.

Behaviour changes

Dementia can have a big impact on a person’s behaviour. It can make them feel anxious, lost, confused and frustrated.

Although each person with dementia handles these feelings in their own way, certain behaviour is common in people with the disease. This includes:

  • repeating questions or carrying out an activity over and over again
  • walking and pacing up and down
  • aggression, shouting and screaming
  • becoming suspicious of other people

If you are experiencing these kinds of behaviour, or are looking after someone who behaves in this way, it's important to remember that this is an attempt to communicate how they're feeling. They are not being deliberately difficult. If you stay calm and work out why they're expressing themselves in this way, you may be able to calm them down.

If you recognise early warning signs, you may be able to prevent behavioural outbursts. Some people find that a distraction can focus a person’s energies elsewhere and prevent them from displaying challenging behaviour.

Your doctor may recommend behavioural therapies to help the person with dementia cope with their feelings. These therapies can be straightforward. For example, they may behave in a particular way because they're bored and have built up too much energy, and a routine involving regular exercise could help solve both of these issues. 

Repetitive behaviour in dementia

People with dementia often repeat questions or carry out certain actions over and over again. This may be due to:

  • memory loss
  • boredom
  • anxiety
  • side effects of medication

If you think they're bored, try engaging them in an activity they enjoy, such as listening to music. Most people with dementia feel anxious at some point and will need to be reassured of your love and support. If you're concerned about the medicine the person you care for is taking, contact their GP for advice.

Walking or pacing up and down is common behaviour in people with dementia. It's very common for people at certain stages of dementia to pace up and down or leave their homes for long walks. This is a phase that doesn’t usually continue for long.

The reasons why someone with dementia walks or paces may not be obvious, but they may leave the house intending to go to the shops, or visit a friend and then simply forget where they're going. They may be bored or uncomfortable sitting at home and want to use up some energy. Or they may simply be confused about what they should be doing and where they should be.

If you notice them leaving, you might want to accompany them to guide them and make sure they don't end up being distressed.

Don't be afraid of talking to local shopkeepers and neighbours you trust to let them know about the person's dementia. Give them a contact number to call if they're concerned about the person’s behaviour. If you're lucky, you may find that your area is part of a "dementia-friendly community".

Tracking devices and alarm systems (telecare) won't solve all your worries about someone with dementia, but may give you some piece of mind.

People with dementia may be aggressive

Aggressive behaviour is a known symptom of dementia. This can be particularly scary and upsetting when it is out of character. Seeing a loved one's personality change is distressing, and may be a far more upsetting effect of dementia than memory loss.

The most common form of aggression is shouting, screaming or using offensive language, including continually calling out for someone, shouting the same word or repetitive screaming.

There are many causes of aggressive behaviour in dementia, including:

  • fear or humiliation
  • frustration with a situation
  • depression
  • no other way to express themselves
  • loss of judgement
  • loss of inhibitions and self-control

It's worth keeping a note of anything that has triggered someone's aggressive behaviour. This may involve some trial and error, but if you can identify these triggers, you may be able to avoid them.

During an episode of aggression, try not to make the situation worse by arguing or adopting an aggressive pose as this may make them lash out. It may help to count to 10 or remove yourself from the situation by leaving the room. One way to stay calm is to remember that even if the aggression seems personal or intentional, it is because of the illness.

When the person has calmed down, try to act normally with them. They may forget the incident quickly, or may feel awkward. Acting normally can help you both move forward.

Sometimes there are simple solutions to the aggression – for example, a night light can make some feel less anxious during the night, making them less likely to call out.

People with dementia may become suspicious of others

Dementia can make some people become very suspicious. This can be due to memory loss, lack of recognition of familiar faces and general confusion caused by the effects of the disease on the brain.

The person you care for may accuse you or their friends and neighbours of taking their possessions. They may believe that everyone is out to get them. If they lose items, they may panic and convince themselves that they have been burgled. Their behaviour may seem delusional and paranoid, but as their carer, try to remember that the way they feel is very real.

Listen to their worries, calm them down and, if you're sure their suspicions are unfounded, try to change the subject.  

Drug treatment for dementia-related behaviour

In extreme circumstances – for example, if the person’s behaviour is harmful to themselves or others, and all methods of calming them have been tried – a doctor may prescribe medication.

If you want information about drugs to help manage behavioural symptoms of dementia, or if you're concerned about the side effects of medication, speak to the person’s GP.

If you are looking after someone with dementia

It may help to talk to someone about how you're feeling. If you want to speak to other carers in similar situations, contact a local carers' support group or a specialist dementia organisation. To find out what's available in your area, visit Carers Trust Scotland.

Communication

Dementia is a progressive illness that, over time, will affect a person's ability to remember and understand basic everyday facts, such as names, dates and places.

Dementia will gradually affect the way a person communicates. Their ability to present rational ideas and to reason clearly will change.

If you are looking after a person with dementia, you may find that as the illness progresses you'll have to start discussions to get the person to make conversation. This is common. Their ability to process information gets progressively weaker and their responses can become delayed.

Encouraging someone with dementia to communicate

Try to start conversations with the person you're looking after, especially if you notice that they're starting fewer conversations themselves. Ways to encourage communication include:

  • speaking clearly and slowly, using short sentences
  • making eye contact with the person when they're talking, asking questions or having other conversations
  • giving them time to respond, because they may feel pressured if you try to speed up their answers
  • encouraging them to join in conversations with others, where possible
  • letting them speak for themselves during discussions about their welfare or health issues, as they may not speak up for themselves in other situations
  • trying not patronise them, or ridiculing what they say
  • acknowledging what they have said, even if they don't answer your question, or what they say seems out of context – show that you've heard them and encourage them to say more about their answer
  • giving them simple choices – avoid creating complicated choices for them
  • using other ways to communicate – such as rephrasing questions because they can't answer in the way they used to

Alzheimer Scotland has several information sheets that can help, including ones on communicating.

Communicating through body language and physical contact

Communication isn't just talking. Gestures, movement and facial expressions can all convey meaning or help you get a message across. Body language and physical contact become significant when speech is difficult for a person with dementia.

Communicating when someone has difficulty speaking or understanding can be made easier by:

  • being patient and remaining calm, which can help the person communicate more easily
  • keeping your tone of voice positive and friendly, where possible
  • talking to them at a respectful distance to avoid intimidating them – being at the same level or lower than they are – for example, if they are sitting – can also help
  • patting or holding the person's hand while talking to them can reassure them and make you feel closer – watch their body language and listen to what they say to see whether they're comfortable with you doing this

It's important that you encourage the person to communicate what they want, however they can. Remember, we all find it frustrating when we can't communicate effectively, or are misunderstood.

Listening to and understanding someone with dementia

Communication is a two-way process. As a carer of someone with dementia, you will probably have to learn to "listen" more carefully.

You may need to be more aware of non-verbal messages, such as facial expressions and body language. You may have to use more physical contact, such as reassuring pats on the arm, or smile as well as speaking. The following tips may improve communication between you and the person you're caring for.

Active listening

When communicating with someone with dementia, "active listening" skills can help. These include:

  • using eye contact to look at the person, and encouraging them to look at you when either of you are talking
  • trying not to interrupt them, even if you think you know what they're saying
  • stopping what you're doing so you can give the person your full attention while they speak
  • minimising distractions that may get in the way of communication, such as the television or the radio playing too loudly, but always check if it's OK to do so
  • repeating what you heard back to the person and asking if it's accurate, or asking them to repeat what they said
  • "listening" in a different way – shaking your head, turning away or murmuring are alternative ways of saying no or expressing disapproval

Dementia activities

Keeping an active social life is key to helping someone with dementia feel happy and motivated.

There are clubs and activities designed to help people in the same situation, which can be rewarding for both the person with dementia and their families and carers.

Everyone needs a sense of purpose and to enjoy themselves during the day. Encouraging someone with dementia to do something creative, some gentle exercise, or take part in an activity helps them to realise their potential, which improves their self-esteem and reduces loneliness. People with the early stages of dementia may enjoy walking, attending gym classes for older people, or meeting up with understanding and supportive friends.

If you care for someone who has dementia, a shared activity can also give you a chance to do something that makes both of you happier and able to enjoy quality time together.

Multisensory activities can help dementia

If the person you care for has become very withdrawn, you may want to explore different ways of connecting with them. The Alzheimer's Society has more advice on how people with dementia can keep active and stay involved, by gardening, baking, doing puzzles and more. There are also ideas for remembering the past in a happy way, such as visiting a favourite place or putting together a memory box.

A multisensory approach to interacting is particularly important when someone has advanced dementia. This is because bright colours, interesting sounds and tactile objects can all catch their attention in a way that other activities, such as making conversation or reading, may not any more.

Sensory gardens

A growing number of care homes now offer a sensory garden for residents to spend time in. They are usually wheelchair-friendly and with carefully chosen plants and flowers to attract local wildlife. A sensory garden is a garden or other plot designed to provide visitors with different sensory experiences. For example, a sensory garden may feature: 

  • scented and edible plants
  • sculptures and sculpted handrails
  • water features that residents can hear and touch
  • textured touch-pads
  • magnifying glass screens
  • Braille and audio induction loop descriptions

Sensory gardens can benefit older adults by encouraging them to spend more time outside. Their design and layout aim to provide a stimulating journey through the senses, heightening a person's awareness of what's around them.

Memory cafes

A good way to meet other people with dementia and their carers is to find a "memory cafe" near you. Memory cafes offer an informal setting for people who are affected by memory problems and their carers to get support and advice.

Memory cafes operate on a drop-in basis, giving people the chance to exchange experiences and information, and receive practical and emotional support. Some memory cafes offer activities, as well as advice and refreshments.

The cafes are run by trained volunteers with the support of health professionals, and usually meet monthly for a couple of hours, although some meet fortnightly. Memory cafes are different from a "memory clinic", which is an NHS dementia service that involves assessing and diagnosing the condition, and requires a referral from a GP or hospital.

Find a memory cafe near you.

Looking after someone with dementia

If you have dementia, or you are looking after someone who has dementia, you are likely to face many practical issues in your daily life.

People with dementia can feel vulnerable as their condition progresses and they increasingly rely on other people to do things for them. It is important that people who have dementia feel reassured and supported, while retaining some level of independence. 

Although some symptoms are common to many people with dementia, each person's experience of the disease and how they cope with it will be different.

Helping someone with dementia with everyday tasks

When a person with dementia finds that their mental abilities are declining, they're likely to feel anxious, stressed and scared. They may be aware of their increasing clumsiness and inability to remember things, and this can be very frustrating and upsetting for them.

If you are looking after someone with dementia, you can help them feel more secure by creating a regular daily routine in a relaxed environment, where they're encouraged and not criticised.

Involving the person you look after in everyday tasks may make them feel useful and improve their sense of self-worth. They could help with the shopping, laying the table or sweeping leaves in the garden, for example.

As the illness progresses, these tasks may become harder for them to manage independently, and you may need to give them more support.

How you can help

The main way you can help someone with dementia is by offering support sensitively and try not to be critical of what they do. It can be very important for the person with dementia to feel that they're still useful.

In the early stages, memory aids can be used around the home to help the person remember where things are.

For example, you could put pictures on cupboard doors of what's inside, such as cups and saucers. This may help to trigger their memory and enable them to retain their independence a little longer.

Keeping up hobbies and interests when someone has dementia

Many people with dementia will still enjoy their hobbies or interests. For example, if they like cooking, they may be able to help make a meal. Going for a walk or gardening is a simple way to get some exercise and a sense of achievement. Or they may prefer listening to music or playing a board game. Caring for a pet cat or dog can bring a lot of pleasure to some people.

If the person you care for was very sociable and outgoing, or if they have a large family, they may really enjoy visits from one or two family members or friends. However, they may struggle to keep up with conversations if they have a lot of visitors at the same time.

Maintaining good health and nutrition in someone with dementia

It's important that the person you care for has a healthy, balanced diet and gets some exercise. The longer they stay fit and healthy, the better their quality of life will be. If you want some easy exercises, try these sitting exercises

If the person you care for doesn't eat enough or eats unhealthy food, they can become susceptible to other illnesses. People with dementia can become more confused if they get ill.

Common food-related problems for people with dementia include:

  • not recognising foods
  • forgetting what food they like
  • refusing or spitting out food
  • resisting being fed
  • asking for strange food combinations

This behaviour is usually due to confusion, or irritation in the mouth caused by dental problems, rather than wanting to be awkward. If you're concerned about the person's eating behaviour, speak to your GP.

How you can help

Involve the person you care for. For example, if they cannot feed themselves, you could put the cutlery in their hand and help guide it to their mouth. You could also involve them in preparing food, if they are able to.

Try to stay calm. If you feel stressed at mealtimes, the person you care for will probably be stressed too. Make sure you have plenty of time for meals, so you can deal with any problems that arise.

Try to accommodate behaviour changes. It's likely that the person you care for will change their eating patterns and habits over time. Being aware of this and trying to be flexible will make mealtimes less stressful for both of you.

If you think the person you care for may have health or dental problems, get help from your GP or dentist. You could also contact a local carers' group to speak to other people who may have experienced similar difficulties.

If the person with dementia smokes, replace matches with disposable lighters to lower the risk of them accidentally causing a fire.

If the person you care for drinks alcohol, check if this is recommended alongside any medication they make take. If in doubt, ask your GP.

Dealing with incontinence in someone with dementia

Incontinence can be difficult to deal with and can be very upsetting for the person you care for. It's common for people with dementia to experience incontinence. This can be due to urinary tract infections, constipation causing added pressure on the bladder, or medication.

A person with dementia may also simply forget to go to the toilet, or may forget where the toilet is. They may also have lost the ability to tell when they need the toilet.

How you can help

It's important to be understanding, retain a sense of humour and remember that it's not their fault. You may also want to try the following:

  • Put a sign on the toilet door, such as a photo of the toilet.
  • Keep the toilet door open and make sure that the person you care for can access it easily.
  • Make sure they can remove their clothes – some people with dementia can struggle with buttons and zips.
  • Look out for signs that they may need to go to the toilet, such as fidgeting and standing up and down.
  • Get adaptations to the toilet if necessary – you may be able to get these through a care and support needs assessment.

If you're still having problems with incontinence, ask your GP to refer you to a continence advisor, who can advise on things like waterproof bedding or incontinence pads.

Helping someone with dementia with their personal hygiene

People with dementia can become anxious about certain aspects of personal hygiene and may need help with washing. For example, they may be scared of falling when getting out of the bath, or they may become disorientated in the shower.

The person you care for may not want to be left alone or they may resist washing, because they find the lack of privacy undignified and embarrassing. Try to do what's best for them.

Helping someone with dementia 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 – for example, no naps during the day, regular bedtimes, and avoiding alcohol or caffeine at night.

Read more about sleeping well.

Taking care of your own wellbeing

If you or a family member has dementia, you may find it difficult to stay positive. Remember that you are not alone, and that help and support is 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 can refer you to a counsellor in your area.

It is important for a carer's physical health and psychological wellbeing that they are able to take a break (respite) from care. Carers may also need respite care if they have to go into hospital or meet other important commitments.

Friends, relatives and neighbours can provide respite care at home. You can also arrange home respite care through home care agencies or, in some areas, your local authority. Care away from home can confuse some people with dementia, both while they are away and when they come back. If you decide on respite care away from the person's home, it is a good idea to visit beforehand to check that it meets the needs of the person with dementia.

Caring for someone with dementia can be frustrating and stressful at times, but there are many organisations that can help. For more details, contact Care Info Scotland. Lines are open 7am-10pm, 7 days a week.

Dementia and the home environment

The way your home is designed and laid out can have a big impact on someone with dementia.

Symptoms of memory loss, confusion and difficulty learning new things means that someone with dementia may forget where they are, where things are and how things work.

If they're able to stay in their own home, the familiar objects will be reassuring, and it's not advisable to make major changes or adaptations to their homes overnight.

However, there are simple, affordable things you can do that may help them to continue living independently and safely.

Better lighting can help people with dementia

Dementia tends to affect older people, who are likely to have poorer eyesight. People with dementia can also feel disorientated in the dark, so leaving a nightlight on can help.

Most people with dementia benefit from better lighting in their home – it can help to avoid confusion and reduce the risk of falls. Using higher wattage light bulbs will boost the lighting in your home, but remember to first check the maximum level the fitting can take.

Increase natural light in a room by making sure the curtains are open and that unnecessary nets or blinds are removed. Cut back hedges or trees if they overshadow the window and block out sunlight. Lighting is particularly important on the stairs and in the toilet. Light switches should be easily accessible and straightforward to use.

Reducing excess noise may help with dementia

Reduce background noise by turning the television or radio off if nobody is paying attention to it.

Carpets, cushions and curtains improve the acoustics of a room by absorbing background noise. If you have laminate or vinyl flooring, simply walking across the room can be very noisy. If the person you care for wears a hearing aid, it will magnify these sounds and can make it uncomfortable for them.

If their hearing has deteriorated with age, make sure they get regular hearing checks and are fitted with hearing aids, if necessary.

People with dementia can have their symptoms made worse by problems with sight and hearing together (known as deafblindness or dual sensory loss). Read more about dual sensory loss from the charity Sense.

Safe flooring and dementia

If you need to replace the carpet in someone's home, choose one that's the same colour throughout the whole house, as this can be less confusing for someone with dementia.

Avoid shiny or reflective flooring, as this may be perceived as being wet, and the person with dementia may struggle to walk over it.

Try to avoid rugs or mats on the floor, as some people with dementia may become confused and think the rug or mat is an object that they need to step over, which could lead to trips or falls.

Contrasting colours may help to navigate 

Contrasting colours on the walls and floors can give the person with dementia a sense of depth and perspective in a room. Having furniture in contrasting colours can make it easier for them to find and use.

Doors and banisters painted in a different colour to the walls will make them stand out. Toilet seats that contrast in colour with the rest of the room will help the person with dementia to find the toilet. Similarly, tablecloths that are a different colour to the plates will help them to see their food better.

Bed linen, towels, soft furnishings and wallpaper should be bold colours rather than pastels, which blend together easily. Patterns should be avoided, as they can be disturbing for people with dementia. They may see faces or shapes in the patterns, which can be confusing for them.

Reflections can be troubling

If the person you care for doesn't recognise their own reflection, they may think that the face they see in the mirror or the person reflected in the window is a stranger. This can be distressing for them.

It can help to cover mirrors with a roller blind or curtain and close curtains in the evening, so they can't see their own reflection in the glass.

Labels may help someone with dementia get around

It's a good idea to label drawers, cupboards and doors to show what's inside them. For example, you could put a photo of the toilet on the toilet door, a photo of the cups on the cupboard that contains the cups, and so on.

Alternatively, transparent cupboard doors can be of great help to someone with dementia, as they can then see what's inside.

Dementia-friendly household items

It's possible to get household items that are specifically designed for people with dementia. For example, these items can include cups with two handles, clocks with large LCD displays, telephones with big buttons, devices to open jars, and so forth. 

You may find that the person you care for prefers traditional fixtures and fittings, such as taps, a toilet flush or bath plugs. Sleek modern designs may be confusing.

Ensure that any tables are stable and have round, smooth edges. They should be at a suitable height, so that food and drink can be seen and a wheelchair can fit underneath if needed.

Gardens and outside spaces can be made to help people with dementia

Like everyone else, people with dementia may benefit from going outside to get some fresh air and exercise.

Ensure that walking surfaces are flat to prevent any trips or falls. The outdoor space should be secure, to stop the person you look after from wandering.

Raised flower beds can help people with restricted mobility actively look after their garden by doing watering, planting or weeding.

Providing sturdy, sheltered seating areas will allow the person you care for to stay outside longer. Bird feeders or tables and bat, bird or bug boxes will attract more wildlife into the garden.

Telecare Self-Check online tool

Visit the Telecare Self-Check online tool to find the right support for you in your area. This easy to use online tool allows you to find helpful information on telecare services that could help you live independently at home for longer.