If your parent or loved one has received a diagnosis of early-stage dementia, it can be easy to feel a sense of helplessness.
But there are lots of things you can do to boost their mood and brain power, maintain social connections and generally make living with dementia easier, so they can stay independent for as long as possible and still lead a fulfilling life.
Here are 8 thoughtful and practical ways you can help someone with dementia to live well. These are also great for someone living with a diagnosis mild cognitive impairment.
1. Buy them a Day Clock for time and day orientation
A simple Dementia Day Clock or two can be a game-changer. These digital clocks prominently display the date, day of the week and time, providing a constant visual reference to reduce confusion and enhance orientation. Place these clocks in locations where they spend most of their time and will easily notice them, such as by the tv in the living room, beside their bed, or next to their favourite sitting area.
2. Create memory aids and reminders
Use basic pen and paper or type out and print lists and reminders to jog their memory for practical and leisure activities. For example, make a list together of their favourite movies, shows and channels, and place the list near the television. Do the same for their favourite music artists and songs, and place it next to where they usually sit and listen to music. Consider also placing reminders by the door for essential items needed when going out, such as their keys, wallet, and medication. Or a list on the refrigerator of foods they normally get at the supermarket.
3. Facilitate a structured daily routine
Helping them maintain a structured daily routine is really important. You could do this manually by writing their schedule of daily activities on a piece of paper or a whiteboard, or put reminders on their phone. You might also consider investing in a Relish Day Hub. This clever and user-friendly device combines a simple day clock with a personalised task manager and is specifically designed for people with early-stage dementia, to help them maintain their independence at home for longer.
4. Enhance social connections with smart devices
Enhance their ability to stay socially connected and engaged by getting them set up with a smart video calling device like the Amazon Echo Show. As well as making video calling and communication much simpler if they struggle with their phones, smart speakers also make it easier for them to access and listen to their favourite music, which is great for emotional well-being.
5. Encourage them to do Cognitive Stimulation Therapy
If your parent or relative has been diagnosed with dementia or mild cognitive impairment, it’s worth encouraging them to do Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST). CST is a mental activity that has been shown to improve memory and thinking skills in people with mild to moderate dementia, and provide a sense of accomplishment. CST sessions are usually done in groups, but can also be done one on one at home with the help of these official workbooks. Ask their GP or local Age UK branch for advice on groups they could join.
6. Create memory boxes for meaningful conversations
Create memory boxes filled with items that evoke cherished memories and important life events. These can include old photographs, cards and letters, newspaper cuttings, soap and perfume, or souvenirs from trips. Memory boxes can be used to help stimulate conversation, allowing you and your parent or loved one with dementia to revisit and talk about memories from their past, which triggers memory recall and fosters meaningful engagement and connection.
7. Support them to exercise regularly
Physical exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain, boosts mood and helps to promote a normal day-night routine, so you should try to encourage your parent to take up or continue to exercise for as long as possible. The earlier you can incorporate exercise into their lifestyle and daily routine, the more likely they will be able to maintain it as their dementia progresses. Always be sure to consult their doctor before they start any new exercise programme.
8. Put some loss prevention hacks in place
Limit the frustration of constantly losing and misplacing items with some clever loss prevention hacks. If you or your parent has an iPhone, get them a couple of Air Tags, and attach these to their keys or bags. If they go missing, you can help them locate them easily with the iPhone ‘Find My’ app. Wearing their phone using a “phone necklace” like these from Xou Xou can also help, as can using a retractable lanyard (available online from retailers such as Amazon) for their public transport passes.
A diagnosis of dementia can be devastating, but the dementia journey can be vastly improved for all with these simple supportive measures. The earlier you and your family can get proactive in helping your parent or relative with dementia to live well, the more you can really make a difference to their quality of life and how the disease affects the whole family. It’s a case of trial and error when tailoring which approaches work best for them, but persevere and you can create an environment that fosters independence, supports their memory, and helps them stay as well as possible for as long as possible.
- What is the best living situation for someone with dementia?
Everyone with dementia is an individual with their own preferences, but a structured and familiar environment with clear visual cues, like a home equipped with day clocks and memory aids, can be beneficial for someone with dementia. The key is to create a space that reduces confusion and enhances orientation.
- At what point should someone with dementia not live alone?
The decision for someone with dementia to no longer live alone depends on their individual circumstances, such as what local support they have. In the early stages, many people are able to live at home alone and enjoy life much as they have always done. However, if they start to struggle significantly with daily activities or safety becomes a concern, it may be time to consider alternative living arrangements or additional support.
- What do people with early-stage dementia struggle with most?
People with early-stage dementia often have difficulties with their memory, such as recalling recent conversations and activities, and with thinking things through and planning ahead. You can help someone with early-stage dementia struggle less by using memory aids and by helping them maintain a routine.
- What worsens dementia symptoms?
Dementia symptoms can worsen due to things like stress (such as moving to an unfamiliar environment), lack of mental stimulation, and social isolation. Supportive measures like cognitive stimulation therapy, helping to maintain social connections, and incorporating regular routine and exercise can help guard against this.