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Bouts of nausea can be both sudden or persistent, and can be caused by everything from stomach viruses, to digestive conditions, right the way down to tasting a strong flavour that turns the stomach. 

For the most part, a queasy spell should be short-lived, and tends to go away on its own. However, for someone with dementia, who may not be able to explain what they’re feeling, it can be both confusing and distressing. 

While it’s common to encounter the occasional episode of queasiness, sustained nausea can be an indication that something more serious is at play, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as a strong headache, blurred vision and difficulty breathing. If you’re concerned there’s anything more serious going on you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. 

Here we share some possible dementia-related reasons your loved one could be feeling sick, non-medical ways to help banish the symptoms, and how to look out for signs that your loved one may be feeling nauseous if they aren’t able to communicate it with you. 

Is it the medication? 

Many people with dementia find that certain medicines used to treat their illness, or combinations of medication they may be taking can result in nausea. Usually, this side-effect occurs when someone starts taking a new drug and their body becomes used to it. 

Symptoms should usually settle down as the body adapts, however, if you’re concerned these side-effects are causing too much distress or lasting too long, it might be worth speaking to a medical professional who may suggest an alternative. They may even help you investigate patch versions of the same medication. Some of the most common drugs used to help counter the symptoms of dementia can be made available in patch form, which means that they enter the blood system directly, without first entering the stomach. 

What could be causing the nausea? 

Underlying health conditions aside, there could be a number of environmental factors to blame for your loved one’s nausea. You should consider: 

  • Flashing lights that can lead to migraines and queasiness
  • Strong odours and flavours that might disagree with them
  • Overheating and humid atmospheres
  • Motion sickness following a car journey 

How to tell if someone with dementia is feeling nauseous if they aren’t able to tell you…

When verbal communication between you and your loved one is hampered by the effects of dementia, it can be difficult to tell if there’s something wrong. Below are a number of factors to look out for:

Weight loss – One of the most worrying outcomes of feeling nauseous is the lack of appetite and subsequent weight loss that people experience. If someone you know with dementia is living alone and has mentioned that they feel queasy, it’s a good idea to check that they’re eating correctly, and not just avoiding meals altogether. 

Dehydration – We hear time and again that we must all drink more water. But for someone with dementia, who may forget to drink anything at all, let alone the eight glasses a day we’re recommended, dehydration is a very real risk. Being dehydrated can lead to feelings of nausea, as well as being the root cause of many ailments, such as urinary infections. But before you get them to glug a litre of H20, remember that too much fluid at one time can have an adverse effect on a sensitive stomach. Instead, try small regular sips throughout the day. 

Fatigue – We all know how grim a bought of nausea can make us feel. Many of us simply want to step back and hunker down until the symptoms ease off. So for those living with dementia, if they’re unable to tell you about why they’re feeling sick, you may notice that they’re more passive, spending much more time in their chair, or sleeping a lot more. 

Changes in behaviour – Alongside seeming more tired, having nausea can make people feel irritated and ratty. Someone living with dementia may feel even more perturbed, as they’re less likely to understand why they may be feeling poorly in the first place. If they’re not able to verbally explain, you may notice that they have become more withdrawn, agitated or show audible signs of distress such as moaning. If this is the case, it’s wise to seek medical help to get to the bottom of the issue. 

Can you help someone feel better without medicine?

Often a spell of nausea will go away on its own, but there are lots of ways you can help banish sickness without resorting to medicine. The following are tried and tested techniques to help ease the queasiness: 

Peppermint tea – Known for its age-old ability to quell queasiness, the menthol properties in mint supposedly have a calming effect on the stomach, relaxing muscles that spasm and cause discomfort. If you can’t persuade your loved one to change their daily brew, you can also try peppermint oil applied to the wrists. 

Acupressure  – Have you ever spotted someone on a boat or a ferry wearing a small fabric band around their wrist? These bands target the pressure points – the same used in acupuncture – to help improve circulation, and relieve symptoms of motion sickness and nausea. 

Fresh air – In the same way that an open window can help banish motion sickness, a fresh breeze can do the same for mild symptoms of nausea. Always ask before opening windows, and explain your actions to your loved one, to avoid distressing them. 

Straighten out  – While this may be easier said than done, if your loved one tends to hunch over in their chair, the chances are that any symptoms of nausea will be exacerbated. Hunching over compresses the muscles surrounding the stomach, leading to more discomfort. If you’re able to get them to straighten out, gravity should help quell some of the symptoms of acid reflux. 

Related article: Boosting appetite for someone with dementia