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6 ways to cope with dementia and another illness

People with dementia often have other health conditions or illnesses to deal with. Find out how to balance all of their needs and keep them safe and well

It’s hard enough coping with a dementia diagnosis without having another medical condition to consider, too. If the person you’re caring for has more than one health concern, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed. But try not to worry, conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and osteoarthritis for example, can be successfully managed alongside dementia without too much extra work.

6 most common underlying health conditions

• High blood pressure
• Coronary heart disease
• Congestive heart failure
• Diabetes
• Osteoarthritis
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

6 ways to manage them

1. Encourage a healthy diet
Ensuring your loved one eats a Mediterranean-style diet, low in saturated fat but high in vegetables, fruit, wholegrain and healthy fats such as olive oil, is not only good for heart health, it will also help to keep conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes in control, and leave you feeling energised.

2. Take physical activity
Even if they have arthritis or another illness which restricts mobility, a little regular exercise is still important. In fact, exercise is considered one of the most effective non-drug treatments for reducing pain and improving movement in osteoarthritis. Getting outside to take exercise is the best option but if that isn’t possible, a yoga DVD or strength training in the living room will do.

3. Manage medication
Develop a regular and safe routine for prompting or administering medication. Before eating a meal, or afterwards might be a good time. Say something simple such as ‘this is your blood pressure tablet, and here’s some fruit juice so you can put it in your mouth and swallow it.’ Choose one of the many pill box organisers, keep medicines in a safe, locked cupboard and if your loved one refuses to take it, stop and try again later.

4. Maintain good communication with their doctor, nurse or specialist.
Work with the professionals who treat your loved one and develop a good rapport. Make sure you have the phone number of their diabetic nurse close to hand in case of an emergency. Do you know when their next hospital or doctor’s appointment is? Have you written down any issues you would like to discuss with their specialist? If they’ve developed symptoms that are worrying you, try noting them down in a diary.

5. Get more financial support…
Are you receiving all the benefits you or your loved one are entitled to? If their condition has deteriorated recently it may be worth contacting social services to ask for another care needs assessment. Complex health needs, resulting from a stroke, mini stroke, or neurodegenerative disease such as Parkinson’s for example, should mean they are entitled to greater support.

6. …and practical help
Aids and equipment to make life easier and more enjoyable may also be available free of charge from social services. Everything from a walking stick to a wheelchair or a hospital bed, could be on offer – providing you meet the criteria.

Going into hospital?

If regular hospital admissions are likely, the sooner you get to grips with the challenges they might bring, the better. Learn a few ways to make hospital stays a little easier here.