6 tips to improve quality of life for people living with dementia

Excerpt: It’s important to challenge a common stigma, which assumes people living with Alzheimer’s disease can’t enjoy quality of life and lose all their abilities. Quality of life for people living with dementia can be improved through participation in pleasant and meaningful activities, social interactions, music, and creative art projects. Being physically active and eating nutritious meals in a relaxed atmosphere can also help make each day a good day.

September 21 is World Alzheimer’s Day.* It’s an opportunity to raise awareness and challenge the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. This common stigma* can create barriers to effective care, support and treatment through an underlying assumption that people living with Alzheimer’s disease can’t enjoy quality of life and lose all their abilities.

The research evidence is clear that for people living with Alzheimer’s disease, regular participation in pleasant and meaningful activities can reduce depression, increase feelings of competence, and improve relationships with family members,* resulting in a better quality of life, reported a University of Washington study.

Here are some suggested strategies and activities to enhance quality of life for people living with dementia:

  1. Encourage social interaction
    Daily one-on-one interactions, in which staff chatted with residents living with dementia about their passions, personal preferences and families, reduced agitation and pain, and improved quality of life,* according to PLOS Medicine.

  2. Enrich life through music and art
    Music provides a powerful way to connect, even after verbal communication becomes difficult,* says the Alzheimer’s Association. Art projects offer rewarding opportunities for self-expression and can create a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

  3. Be physically active
    Regular physical exercise can help people with dementia improve activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and eating,* allowing them to be more independent, reports McMaster University.

  4. Offer choices
    Give the person opportunities to make choices by asking about likes, dislikes and opinions,* which supports their individuality and independence, advises the Alzheimer Society of Canada (ASC).

  5. Promote good nutrition
    Meals should be relaxed, unhurried and free from distraction in well-let dining rooms that feel like a home rather than an institution, with tasty, nourishing food that stimulates the person’s senses and appetite,* says Alzheimer’s Disease International

  6. Find creative ways to communicate
    Meaningful communication and connections to other people can greatly enhance quality of life. Communication is possible at all stages of dementia and if a person’s speech becomes hard to understand, use what you know about them and what you’re feeling to help interpret what they may be trying to say,* advises ASC. Avoid contradicting the person or trying to persuade them that what they believe is untrue or inaccurate.

Chartwell Retirement Residences seeks to support older adults living with dementia and their families through their Memory Living program. Some Chartwell retirement communities are equipped with dedicated and secure neigbourhoods, where residents and their spouses can comfortably live, and trained, caring staff can help them lead meaningful and fulfilling lives.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:
1. awarenessdays.com. “World Alzheimer’s Day 2019.” (2019), online: https://www.awarenessdays.com/awareness-days-calendar/world-alzheimers-day-2019/
2. Alzheimer Society Ontario. “Stigma” (2019), online: https://alzheimer.ca/en/on/About-dementia/What-is-dementia/Stigma
3. University of Washington. “Evidence-based interventions to improve quality of life for individuals with dementia.” (2007), online: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2585781/
4. University of Exeter. “Just an hour a week of social interaction helps dementia patients.” (2018), online: https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2018/dementia-social-interaction-fd.html
5. Alzheimer’s Association. “Art and Music.” (2019), online: https://alz.org/help-support/caregiving/daily-care/art-music
6. McMaster University. “Exercise and dementia: What does the latest research tell us?” (2017), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/blog/2016/01/14/exercise-and-dementia-what-does-the-latest-research-tell-us
7. Alzheimer Society Canada. “Quality of life.” (2017), online: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/Living-with-dementia/Caring-for-someone/Quality-of-life
8. Alzheimer’s Disease International. “Nutrition and dementia.” (2014), online: https://www.alz.co.uk/sites/default/files/pdfs/nutrition-and-dementia.pdf
9. Alzheimer Society Canada. “Ways to communicate.” (2019), online: https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/Living-with-dementia/Ways-to-communicate