Dementia is not a disease that just takes away memories. It steals a person’s ability to communicate and perform everyday tasks, like getting dressed. When loved ones can no longer communicate their needs, it can be hard to know how to make their lives easier.
A new study has found proven ways to make dementia patients more comfortable, providing them with a higher quality of life for as long as possible.
Researchers analyzed 197 studies that measured the habits of over 37,000 people with dementia. What they found is not surprising, but it is a good reminder of how to make dementia dementia more bearable. Being included in social activities, maintaining strong relationships with family and friends, having religious beliefs, high-quality care and keeping in shape physically and mentally were all associated with a higher quality of life. Meanwhile, bad physical or mental health (including depression), apathy and poorer caregiver well-being were associated with a lower quality of life.
“While many investigations focus on prevention and better treatments, it’s equally vital that we understand how we can optimize quality of life for the 50 million people worldwide who have dementia,” said Linda Clare, a professor at the University of Exeter. “We now need to develop ways to put these findings into action to make a difference to people’s lives by supporting relationships, social engagement and everyday functioning, addressing poor physical and mental health, and ensuring high-quality care.”
The study also pinpointed things that were not associated with a better or worse quality of life: gender, education, marital status, income, age and type of dementia.
Overall, the researchers emphasized that the person with dementia should continue to do the things they enjoyed before they got dementia. The best predictor of how a person rated quality of life in the later stages of dementia was how they rated it during the beginning stages, according to study authors. That means ensuring someone has a care plan in place in the very early stages of dementia is important, they said.
“Maintaining a healthy social life and doing things you enjoy is important for everyone’s quality of life,” said Doug Brown, Chief Policy and Research Advisor at Alzheimer’s Society, which funded the study. People with dementia are no exception to that. “People with dementia have a right to continue living a life they love,” said Brown.
This study was published in the journal Psychological Medicine.