How to Live Your Best Life With Dementia – Top 10 Tips
Three years ago my husband, Dave, was diagnosed with Frontotemporal dementia (FTD). At first, I didn’t believe it. How could someone in their 50s have this disease? When the doctor told us it was terminal–without a cure or drugs to slow it down-I didn’t hear much more. There must be ways to manage it. Somehow I would figure it out.
Although I didn’t find a booklet on ‘10 Simple Ways to Live with Dementia’, I have found ways to thrive, despite our challenges. At the 3 year mark, Dave continues to do well and here are 10 reasons why:
1. Attitude: From the moment the doctor gave us the news, he has never been angry or ashamed of his dementia. He doesn’t waste his energy on worrying about the future, or resisting what life is giving him. He told me about 3 weeks after his diagnosis…”I may not be able to do much about my brain dying, but I am going to do everything I can to keep my body healthy.” A positive attitude = clearer mind
2. Exercise: Every day Dave takes the dogs for a hike, after he has a run, bike ride or workout in the gym. He says it is one of the few times when he has relief from his headaches. Dr. Amen, an expert in brain science, says that exercise is one of the best ways to keep our brains healthy. It increases blood flow and releases endorphins–improving our mood and calming the chatter in our mind. A recent study showed that exercising will decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by 35%.
3. Diet: Natural, unprocessed foods (fruits/vegetables) are low-glycemic, which maintains a steady blood sugar level–minimizing fatigue, irritability and foggy brain. They also contain anti-oxidants which neutralize the stresses in the body. Foods high in omega 3 fats (fish, flax seed, and almonds) are important for nourishing the brain cells. Since Dave’s taste buds are changing, I am finding creative ways to fit in 5-8 fruit and vegetables a day. I cook sweeter vegetables such as yams, carrots and corn; add fruit and flax seeds to his smoothies; and use plum sauce with fish.
4. Supplements: Dave takes high grade vitamins & minerals (Usana nutritionals) to fill the gaps in his diet and raise the level of anti-oxidants. He also takes gingko biloba, which increases blood flow to the brain; CoQ10, a powerful anti-oxidant and energy booster; and a pharmaceutical-graded omega 3 (fish) capsules. Dr. Amen’s book ‘Making a Good Brain Great’ has a more extensive list.
5. Purpose in Life: Dave has a good reason for getting up in the morning. He volunteers at woodworking shows, Search and Rescue fund-raising events, Alzheimer’s Society, and is a Nordic walking leader. He has also chores around the house, which change with his abilities. I remember one night I asked him how his day was…”Great”. Why? “Because I got to wash your car.”
6. Socialize: Dave loves being with people, even though he may not recognize them, or be able to carry on a fluent conversation. He is activating his memory, problem-solving, speaking and listening areas.
7. Variety: Despite Dave’s routines (watches the weather report at 7:40 and 8:00 am, runs on Monday and Friday at 8:10 am), he likes to do something new every day-walking and biking in different areas, road trips, or helping me with shopping. Variety stimulates the plasticity switch in the brain, which wakes up brain cells. Turning it on is simple as brushing your teeth with your opposite hand, or counting backwards from 100 by 7.
8. Sleep: Dave sleeps 11 hours at night (takes melatonin for a better quality sleep) and has a 1-2 hour nap in the day. Dave is most alert as soon as he wakes up. Dr. Amen recommends 6-8 hours/night. Less than 6 hours causes mood instability and decreased cognitive ability.
9. Hobbies: Duck carving has been Dave’s passion for over 30 years, but hand tremors are making it difficult to carve fine details. He is replacing carving with building jigsaw puzzles. He spends hours scanning the table for pieces, using his fine motor areas to pick them up and fit them in. Sometimes we work on it together, or play trionomos or dice games.
10. Caregiver’s health & attitude-physical, emotional, mental and spiritual: Just like in an airplane emergency, I have to put my oxygen mask on before I can help Dave. I make time to go out with friends, exercise, and meditate. When I feel sad or overwhelmed, I write in my journal. It helps to release my tears, and reminds me of what I am gaining from this journey–patience and ability to let go of things I can’t control (dementia). Energy is contagious…happier and peaceful ‘me’ = easier and healthier care-giving.
Holly Eburne, BPE, BScR (PT/OT), DipSportPhysio is a physiotherapist for 28 years, travelling the world with national and elite athletes. Holly, a Health & Wellness business owner/coach, is enthusiastic about helping other people live their best life.
Holly Eburne is a contributing author of the bestselling book, Overcomers, Inc., Inspiring Stories of Hope, Courage and Inspiration