Dementia guide

Dementia care at home

With the right support, someone who has dementia may be able to continue living at home for a long time.

Although having dementia can reduce a person’s ability to live independently, there is a variety of support available to help them. If you care for someone with dementia and want to support them continuing to live at home, you can find advice and resources below in the following areas:

Watch this video from the Alzheimer’s Society featuring 92-year-old Rose, who has dementia and lives in her own flat, supported by family and carers.

General support services that can help someone with dementia

You can find advice on Carers Direct about home care, where a paid carer can come to help someone with dementia with practical tasks such as cleaning, cooking, shopping and personal care.

Carers Direct also has information available about support services, including Meals on Wheels, laundry and library services. 

Helping someone with dementia to feed themselves

When it comes to mealtimes, a person with dementia may stop recognising the food in front of them. They may also struggle to use a knife and fork if their dementia affects their physical coordination, and find it hard to chew or swallow food. Further behaviour problems can result in the person with dementia refusing help with eating.

These factors can result in a limited diet for someone with dementia, which in extreme cases can lead to malnutrition. However, there are steps that can be taken to prevent this from happening.

For tips on supporting a person with dementia at mealtimes and an explanation of why changes in eating habits can occur, read this factsheet from Alzheimer’s UK about eating and drinking.

Find information on Carers Direct about nutrition and feeding problems.

Dressing someone with dementia

As dementia progresses, a person’s concentration and coordination decreases and they need more help with dressing. It’s important that they are able to carry on deciding what they wear for as long as possible, but if they do need help, try to offer it with tact and sensitivity.

Make sure the person with dementia wears clothes that are suitably warm or cool depending on the weather, that they have on layers if necessary and that they are dry.

If you’re helping them to buy new clothes, encourage them to choose clothes that are easier to manage, for example, clothes which have poppers instead of buttons.

Read this factsheet on dressing from Alzheimer’s Society, including tips for helping someone to dress and helping them to choose comfortable clothing.

Helping someone with dementia to wash and bathe

For most adults, washing is a personal and private activity, so it can be hard for the person with dementia to adjust to having someone help them with this. It can also be challenging for you as the carer to adjust to this level of caring if you’re new to it. Try to approach it in a positive and open-minded way, as this will help prevent it from being a difficult experience for either of you.

There are also practical things to consider, such as whether the person with dementia has developed a fear of deep water, or if they have become incontinent (unable to control when they empty their bladder or bowel).

Find advice on Carers Direct about personal hygiene, including tips for washing, bathing, bed baths and more.  

This factsheet from the Alzheimer’s Society on washing and bathing has tips for helping someone to wash, including encouraging independence and creating a relaxing environment.

Help with sitting, standing, moving and lifting

If you care for someone with advanced dementia, there will be many situations where you will need to physically handle them, for example, to help them in and out of bed, the bath, going to the toilet, or perhaps to lift them up off the floor if they’ve had a fall.

However, unless you take the necessary precautions while lifting or moving someone, you may be at risk of giving yourself an injury such as a back injury.

Read this advice on the best approaches to moving and handling someone with dementia, including lifting techniques.

If you start having to move someone regularly because they are unable to move themselves, contact your local authority to ask for a community care assessment for the person with dementia. This is the best way to access help, equipment and training for moving a person.

Mobility problems in dementia

If the person with dementia struggles to move around, they may eventually need a wheelchair. This is something they’ll need help with arranging.

There are different types of wheelchair available, including:

  • self-propelled, where the user controls it
  • attendant-propelled, where someone else steers it
  • electric powered, where the chair can be ‘driven’ outside on the pavement and sometimes the road.

As a person’s dementia progresses, they are more likely to need an attendant-propelled wheelchair, in which case, as a carer, you will need to consider what works for you as well as the person sitting in it. This includes issues such as whether you want a wheelchair that can be folded away into your car (if you have one).

Read this factsheet from the Disability Living Foundation (PDF, 374.6Kb) about choosing an attendant-propelled wheelchair, including advice on materials and folding frames.

Find tips on choosing a wheelchair from Carers Direct.

Safety at home and dementia

As dementia progresses, the person is more at risk of being involved in accidents at home. This is because their sense of balance and ability to react quickly is reduced. Their memory and judgment are both increasingly affected too.

Stress and confusion experienced by the person with dementia, or tiredness on the part of their carers, can also increase the chances of an accident occurring. Furthermore, having memory loss and difficulty learning new things means that someone with dementia may forget where they are, where things are and how things work.

For all these reasons, it’s worth taking simple steps to help the person with dementia to navigate their home more easily and safely. But try not to make major changes overnight as this can be alarming or upsetting to the person with dementia.

Read this factsheet from the Alzheimer’s Society about safety in the home. It includes tips on avoiding accidents by looking at areas such as lighting, equipment, dangerous substances and risk of fire at home.

Installing specialist equipment and facilities can go a long way towards helping someone with dementia to continue living at home safely. Read this advice from Carers Direct about how the home environment can be adapted for someone with dementia.

Read this factsheet from the Alzheimer’s Society about equipment, adaptations and improvements to the home. The best way to get this equipment is by getting a community care assessment for the person you're looking after.

How telecare technology can help with dementia

‘Telecare’ is a term used to describe personal alarms and health-monitoring devices that can help people with disabilities and long-term conditions to live more independently. Telecare can be particularly helpful if you’re caring for someone with dementia.

Telecare and telehealth services can give peace of mind to the person with dementia and their relatives, by confirming that they are safe at home and their health is stable. For example, telecare can help reassure you – from a distance – that the person you care for has got out of bed (through a bed pressure sensor) but hasn’t left the house (front door sensor).

Advance care planning for people with dementia

'Advance care planning' (ACP) is a way to ensure that people get the support they want. ACP means that everyone involved in looking after someone with dementia, including doctors, care workers, family carers and the person themselves, need to think about, discuss and then record the person’s wishes regarding their ongoing care.

By ensuring that everyone understands what the person's preferences are, it is more likely that the person will be supported as they would like to be, even if they are unable to say this in future. For someone with dementia this is particularly important, as it can reduce anxiety, which can be a cause of challenging behaviour.

Find out more about Advance Care Planning, a free service you can register for. 

Last reviewed: 08/03/2013

Next review due: 08/03/2015


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