Leading a healthy lifestyle is important for us all and this is particularly true if you have dementia, or are supporting someone with the condition. Some evidence suggests that by eating well, exercising, staying mentally and socially active and keeping stress in check, you may be able to slow down the debilitating impact of certain dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease.
If you are supporting someone with dementia, it can be easy to forget to think about your own health. But it is just as important that you eat and sleep well, and that you find time to see friends and do activities that you enjoy.
Take regular exercise
Regular physical exercise makes you feel better, improves your mood and might slow down further deterioration.
If joining a gym or going to an exercise class seems too daunting, then why not look for small ways to build more activity in to your daily life such as going swimming or walking short journeys instead of taking the car or bus. You could always ask someone to accompany you if you are worried about walking alone. Doing housework or gardening are also great ways of keeping active whilst doing something useful at the same time. It is recommended that you aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week.
Sing, dance, paint, garden, bake, laugh, but do try something completely new and challenging and eats lots of fruit!
- Jane, coordinator at Camelford Dementia Action Alliance and creator of the Purple Angel logo
Eat a healthy diet
Our brains need a healthy diet to operate at their best, in the same way our heart does. Eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats helps you to stay healthy. For more information go to our Nutrition page.
Try to make sure that you drink plenty of water and other fluids, as dehydration can lead people to becoming confused.
Stopping smoking improves the circulation to your brain almost immediately, so do consider reducing or giving up smoking and drinking alcohol in moderation.
‘Use it, or lose it’
Mental stimulation is vital for all of us, including those with dementia. In the same way as building exercise into your daily life, try to set aside some time every day to stimulate your brain. You could do this by taking up a new hobby or activity, or renewing hobbies you have enjoyed in the past. Reading, doing games or craft activities build your capacity to form and retain cognitive associations. Some people practice memorising things using rhymes or patterns to try to strengthen their memory connections.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep deprivation impairs the ability to think, problem solve, store and recall information in all of us. Deep sleep is critical for memory formation and retention, and the vast majority of adults need atleast eight hours sleep a night. You may find that you feel more tired than you used to. Living with dementia can mean it takes more effort to try and concentrate on things so try to establish a regular night-time sleep schedule, and nap in the daytime too if you are feeling tired.
Stress can take a heavy toll on the brain, leading to shrinkage in a key memory area of the brain called the hippocampus. Do try to manage your stress levels by breathing deeply to increase oxygen to the brain and find time to make relaxing a priority. You might like to listen to music, read, go for a walk in the park, play with your children or pets, practice yoga or meditation or take a long bath to help you relax.
Maintain an active social life
Staying socially active helps to keep you connected to others and keeps your brain active. Try not to let dementia make you become isolated from family or friends. Friendships are a vital source of support. Wherever possible, keep up your existing social activities, or find new ones to suit you as your life changes. There are many ways you can meet new people, for more information go to our Socialising page.
Dr Jennifer Bute was diagnosed with young onset Alzheimer's disease at the age of 63. She has written a piece for our website about what she does to keep well and mentally active. You can read it here.