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Living with dementia

8-minute read

Key facts

  • It is normal to feel a range of emotions after you are diagnosed with dementia.
  • Dementia can make it hard to complete some everyday tasks.
  • There are many strategies you can use to have a full and active life with dementia.
  • It’s important to seek support from your friends, family and doctor. They can help you maximise your quality of life with dementia.

Being diagnosed with dementia can be difficult. At first, you may not notice anything different. But over time, dementia can make it more challenging for you to complete everyday tasks.

With support, you can still live a full and active life with dementia. Read on for guidance on living well with dementia.

How can I deal with my diagnosis?

You might feel a range of emotions after being diagnosed with dementia. Your feelings may also change over time as you process this information.

Common feelings include shock, denial, fear, anxiety, a sense of loss or isolation. Some people may feel a sense of relief at finally knowing what is causing their symptoms.

If you are diagnosed with dementia before the age of 65 (younger-onset dementia), you may feel especially shocked. Many younger people do not expect a diagnosis of dementia. It may take you some time to come to terms with it.

Recognising your emotions can help you to process them. Talking about your feelings with your doctor, family and/or friends can also help.

Once you have taken some time to do this, you might like to learn more about dementia. This can be uncomfortable. But understanding what you might experience in the future can help you plan for it. This does not need to happen straight away. If you feel overwhelmed, take some time to absorb the new information.

It’s a good idea to share your diagnosis with close family and friends. Emotional and practical support is important, especially as your dementia progresses. Having dementia can put extra strain on your relationships, since you may need more support.

Many people find that some relationships become stronger as time goes on, and you and your loved ones adjust.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How will I do everyday tasks?

Everyone experiences dementia differently. But common symptoms, such as memory loss, language difficulties and disorientation, can make everyday tasks more challenging.

You may begin to struggle with tasks such as:

  • driving
  • working
  • shopping
  • food preparation
  • personal care

There are many strategies you can use to help you remain as independent as possible:

  • Use large, easy-to-read clocks and calendars to remind you of the time and date.
  • Label cupboards and drawers to help you find things easily.
  • Set timers to remind you to do tasks such as taking medicines.
  • Organise to have groceries or prepared meals delivered.
  • Keep a list of important contact numbers by the phone.
  • Install handrails in the bathroom and shower.

An occupation therapist can also recommend home modifications or equipment that you may find helpful.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

If you drive, you must by law tell the licencing authority and your car insurer about your diagnosis. Ask your doctor for more information about any tests you may need if you want to continue driving. These can vary between states.

As dementia progresses, memory loss and disorientation can affect your ability to drive.

How can I make sure I'm meeting my nutritional needs?

Maintaining a nutritious diet is important to stay physically and mentally healthy. Most people with dementia have similar nutritional needs to other adults of the same age.

There are several ways that dementia can make it harder to maintain good nutrition. People with dementia may:

  • experience changes in appetite or cravings
  • forget to eat or drink
  • be unable to recognise food and drink given to them
  • forget how to use cutlery

Dementia can also make tasks such as food shopping and cooking extra challenging.

Here are some strategies that can help you eat well with dementia:

  • Set a meal-time reminder on your alarm clock or phone.
  • Keep easy-to-eat snacks in view (non-perishable).
  • Choose simple finger foods that are easy to prepare.
  • Eat meals with other people when possible. This can help stimulate your memory. It’s also more enjoyable.
  • Arrange regular delivery of groceries or prepared meals.
  • Ask your social worker or local council about meals-on-wheels programs.

If you would like more information and advice about maintaining good nutrition with dementia, ask your doctor or dietician.

Can I still do hobbies with dementia?

Staying involved in activities you enjoy will help you live well with dementia.

Many people with dementia continue to do hobbies that they enjoy, with some changes and support. You can ask your friends and family to help you keep doing activities you enjoy.

Try and be patient with yourself. Choose simple, accessible activities for best enjoyment.

Here are some activities you may enjoy:

  • walking with others and/or pets
  • looking after pets
  • gardening
  • listening to music
  • looking through old photos or memorabilia and sharing them with others

Can I still look after a pet if I have dementia?

Caring for animals gives many people pleasure.

People with dementia who have had pets throughout their lives often find their own or others’ pets comforting. Pets can be especially reassuring and soothing during times of stress or confusion.

Some symptoms of dementia can make pet care more difficult. Memory loss may mean you forget to feed or exercise your pet.

You may find it hard to prepare pet food correctly and clean up after your pet. If you have trouble with balance, there is also a risk of you tripping over your pet.

If you have a pet, it’s a good idea to make an animal care plan soon after your diagnosis This can include what needs to be done often to care for your pet, including daily, monthly and yearly tasks.

It should also include what you would like to happen to your pet if you are no longer able to look after it. Having an animal care plan can help you remember the tasks you need to do to care for your pet. It can also guide your friends, family or other support people to help you look after your pet.

In the later stages of dementia, some people find simulated pets comforting. While not the same as a real animal, soft toys or robotic pets can give some of the pleasure of pet ownership without the responsibility.

How can I meet my personal grooming needs?

Some people with dementia struggle to maintain personal hygiene. This can be caused by problems with memory, coordination and balance.

Keeping your house layout simple and free of clutter will help reduce your chance of falling. This includes the bathroom.

Home modifications, such as a grip rail or shower seat in the bathroom can help you remain independent. You may find it easier to shower than to lift yourself in and out of the bath.

If you tend to forget, set timers to remind you to shower, shave or brush your teeth.

If you struggle to cut your nails, ask for help from a friend or family member, or visit a podiatrist or manicurist.

What should I do if I develop incontinence problems?

The changes in the brain caused by dementia can affect continence (bladder and bowel control) in a few different ways. You may have trouble:

  • recognising the need to use the toilet
  • being able to wait to use the toilet
  • finding the toilet
  • using the toilet properly

If you develop incontinence (loss of bladder or bowel control), it’s important to see your doctor to rule out other treatable conditions that can cause incontinence.

There are many strategies you can use to manage incontinence:

  • Plan to use the toilet at set times during the day. Use a timer if you think you will forget.
  • Make sure your toilet is easily accessible. A raised toilet seat and grab bars nearby can help.
  • Choose clothing that is simple to remove. Consider pants with elastic waistbands or Velcro closures instead or buttons or zippers.
  • Consider using incontinence pads to protect your clothing in case of an accident.

An occupational therapist can give you information and advice about equipment and strategies that can help you.

Resources and support

  • Call the National Dementia Helpline for information and support about living with dementia.
  • Visit Dementia Australia for information and support for you and loved ones about living well with dementia.
  • Visit myagedcare for information about government-funded aged care support services in Australia.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022


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