How to Improve Quality of Life for Someone Who Has Alzheimer's

The quality of life for someone who is living with Alzheimer's disease or another kind of dementia might strike you as improbable. You may wonder how anyone who struggles with memory loss and word-finding ability could have a good quality of life.

Men laughing on bench
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc Blend Images / Getty Images

However, there are many people with dementia who feel differently. They live life with a laugh and a mischievous twinkle in their eyes, or a contented smile on their lips. They interact with those around them, listen quietly to their favorite music or watch their college sports team play on TV. And, if you ask them, they would tell you that life is good.

What, then, defines the quality of life? And, how can we help improve the quality of life for those around us who have dementia?

Although you could argue that "quality of life" can be defined differently by everyone, there are some common factors that are likely true for most people.

Facilitate Relationships

Having someone to talk to and maintaining relationships is rated as the most important factor in the research project entitled, "My Name Is Not Dementia" that was conducted by the Alzheimer's Society in the United Kingdom. This project interviewed people with dementia and sought to identify which factors were important to them in facilitating quality of life.

Provide Meaningful Activities

The opportunity to be involved in activities that are meaningful was ranked eighth of out ten factors in the above report. Your goal should not just be to occupy the person, but rather to offer the chance to participate in *meaningful* activities.

Physical Exercise

Physical exercise has been shown to improve both physical and cognitive health.

Ensure a Comfortable Environment

Even if the space available is small, you can include things that make a room more homelike. You can also provide peace and quiet when needed, and ensure that the environment is safe and secure.

Keep a Sense of Humor

Also included in the "My Name Is Not Dementia" project, humor is valued by people with dementia. Share a joke or laugh at yourself. Laughter is clinically proven to be good medicine, so have fun!

Pet Therapy

For some people, pets are their lives. For others, not so much. If your loved one is an animal lover and lives at home, help her to care for her cat or dog. If she lives in a facility, do whatever you can to bring a pet to visit and bring pictures of favored animals.

An Unhurried Approach

Part of providing a positive environment is slowing down a bit with the care you provide. For those of us who have a mental "To-Do" list, this takes a conscious effort.

Encourage Communication

Being listened to and understood are important values for quality of life, according to the "My Name Is Not Dementia" project.

Positive Responses to Challenging Behaviors

Although confusion, memory loss, a loss of inhibitions and impaired executive functioning can trigger very challenging behaviors, how we respond to these can significantly impact the quality of life.

Adequate Monitoring for Pain

Make sure that you're on the lookout for discomfort and pain. If you've ever had pain that's not adequately addressed, you know that quality of life can be affected by pain.

Assess for Depression

Depression that is not be identified can put a damper on the quality of life. Assess for signs of depression in dementia and offer treatment if appropriate.


Don't forget to offer a hug or a pat on the shoulder. A little TLC goes a long way.

Spiritual Care

In the "My Name Is Not Dementia" report, people also identified the need to practice their faith and religion as critical to their quality of life.

Relaxing Diet Restrictions

Research has shown that decreasing dietary restrictions can improve the quality of life and improve nutrition. Maybe that dish of ice cream isn't so bad after all.

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By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.