August is National Wellness Month. And while wellness principles should be practiced year-round, this month presents us with a great opportunity to stop and check in with our health. For individuals living with dementia, wellness takes on added significance. We believe it is important for family caregivers to understand that the limitations associated with dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease, can impact all areas of health.
The Alzheimer’s Association identifies four major areas of wellness and health for those individuals living with dementia: physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Here are a few tips in each category to help you help your loved one lead a more purposeful, healthy life.
- Schedule regular check-ups. Untreated physical issues can impact dementia.
- Create a solid routine for both diet and exercise. Both have the potential to improve cognition.
- Minimize their alcohol intake. Alcohol can further cloud cognition.
- Manage their medications carefully. There are many devices and systems available to help.
Emotional and psychological health:
- Try not to stifle emotional expression. They will experience a wide range of emotions. Denying that can backfire in the form of greater stress and agitation.
- Develop a strong relationship with a therapist who is experienced in dementia.
- Encourage your loved one to join a support group of others in the early stages of dementia.
- Know the signs of depression and when to seek help. Depression has clear ties to dementia.
- Maintain as many of your loved one’s friend/familial relationships as possible.
- Find ways to engage your loved one in regular social activities. Socialization is key to improving emotional and cognitive health.
- Create a social network that includes others who are living with dementia.
- Identify individuals (family, friends or spiritual advisors) who you can depend on to meet regularly with your loved one.
- Engage in activities that slow down the pace of living. Encourage meditation or yoga.
- Encourage them, especially in the early stages of dementia, to reach out to others who are in need, whether in the form of volunteering or just lending an ear to an old friend.
Having a loved one diagnosed with dementia does not have to mean shutting down all those wonderful thoughts, abilities and activities that made them who they are. By continuing to touch regularly on each wellness area outlined above you will be helping your loved one to stay connected, in a healthy way, to family, friends and the world around them.
(The top image was taken at Emerald Place Memory Care, in Glenview, Illinois. Residents plant and tend to their own vegetable gardens, enjoying the fresh meals that come from them!)