We all lose some physical mobility as we age but with dementia, this process is accelerated. Dementia affects coordination and balance, meaning that movement can become slower or jerky and make people more likely to fall or become accident-prone. Although you may not feel as confidently moving around as you used to, it’s important to stay mobile. A healthy heart, good circulation and muscle tone will help those with dementia stay independent and mobile for longer.
Can people with dementia still walk?
In the early and mid-stages of dementia, you may feel a little less steady on your feet but walking is encouraged. In the later stages of dementia, people will require support with mobility, including walking.
How can you encourage mobility?
If you’re a friend or family member caring for someone with dementia symptoms, falls can be scary for both of you. In order to reduce the risk of falling, it is easy to slip into a sedentary lifestyle. Although reducing someone’s need to move around is often a way we show care and express love, it’s important for people to stay as mobile as they can.
Sudden changes to routine can be distressing so it’s a good idea to encourage mobility gradually. While it’s still nice to take someone cups of tea, you can gradually introduce more mobility like asking them to make you a cup of tea or encouraging them to answer the phone.
Short walks outside can feel out of your comfort zone, but you can start small to build both of your confidence. Topping up bird feeders together in the garden is a nice outdoor routine and if the shops are just around the corner, it can be a good idea to walk together to pick up a newspaper or milk.
Introducing yourselves and getting to know your local shopkeepers can also be helpful if someone with dementia becomes lost or needs help in the future.
Can mobility affect independent living with dementia?
With dementia, is important to maintain as much independence as possible. If someone is living independently with dementia, and you notice that they are knocking things over regularly, falling often, struggling to feed themselves or maintain good personal hygiene, these can be signs that they may need some extra help.
Alternatively, in the early and mid-stages of dementia, there are many ways that you can make small adjustments to the home to enable people to stay independent for longer.
We’ve found 15 clever tips to help you adapt a home so someone can live better with dementia:
- Increase your mobility confidence by installing handrails around the house and supports in the bathroom.
- Put night lights between the bedroom and the bathroom to prevent late-night falls.
- Pick up some rug tape to keep rugs flat on the floor and reduce trips.
- Choose a flat bottomed mug with a wide handle or even a travel mug with a lid (the lid will help keep your drink warm) – it’s best to choose a lightweight material like plastic and bright colours.
- Choose lightweight, colourful plates with high sides.
- Adapt your cutlery with plastic tubing or Sugru to act as comfort grip handles.
- Swap your current TV remote for a larger or simpler one, you can also adapt an existing remote by using masking tape to cover up buttons you don’t use.
- Put a bumper case on your tablet or smartphone so you don’t need to worry about the screen breaking if dropped.
- De-clutter the floor – it’s important to reduce trip hazards.
- Turn on the radio – if someone is feeling low or anxious, try putting on some music. You can also ask family members to make a playlist of their favourite music.
- Garden – take care of indoor plants, get a garden kneeler if they have no trouble getting up and down or a garden planter on legs if they prefer to stay upright.
- Maintaining bird feeders, Bird boxes and Bee hotels will help keep you active and planting flowers will encourage beautiful pollinators like bees and butterflies.
- Changing footwear can be a chore so slippers with a rubber sole are a good option so they can nip outside easily.
- Help to rebuild confidence after setbacks – for example, after a fall, encourage mobility by taking a short stroll around the garden (as long as their physically able).
- To help with cleaning around the home, introduce a handheld vacuum cleaner or a long-handled dustpan and brush that can be used standing up.
When is mobility too mobile?
While it’s perfectly acceptable for people with dementia to independently leave their home - if they regularly get confused or lost it can be stressful for them and for those caring for them. This can be a difficult situation for friends and family who want to keep someone safe without restricting their independence.
Firstly, it’s a good idea to have a discussion with the person with dementia to ask why they want to leave the house as there could be a simple reason such as wanting to see friends or boredom. Local groups may be able to help by providing exercise and social stimulation in a safe environment.
It is important to never lock someone with dementia inside their home as this can be very dangerous should they fall or need help. Instead, consider writing a sign for the inside of the door to explain to them that they have dementia and explain when someone will next be visiting, you can also install a door sensor to play a pre-recorded message. Alternatively, you can give them a name tag to wear outside, with a number to call if they get lost.
Get to know your neighbours and ask them to keep an eye out. It may also be worth printing out a photo and your number to provide to local shops, explaining who has dementia with a number to call if they are lost or confused.