Physical Impact of Dementia on Activities of Daily Life

Dementia is more commonly understood as challenges with memory and cognitive ability, but it also can have a significant impact on physical ability. Having difficulties completing daily activities can be frustrating and disheartening for those living with dementia as well as for caregivers and families. This blog covers the physical changes someone living with dementia will experience, the development of daily plan and encouragement of daily activities.

Can dementia cause physical challenges?

The direct cause of dementia is not fully understood. One of the most common causes of dementia is Alzheimer's. With Alzheimer's it is believed that there is a build-up of harmful proteins in the brain, these proteins form large clumps or tangles. These tangles prevent the normal functioning of the brain. Initially, these tangles appear in parts of the brain related to memory, as the disease progresses the clumps begin to affect areas of the brain responsible for bodily behaviour. The effect of Alzheimer's is different for each person and the physical challenges will affect each person differently. Physical challenges that may be seen are:

  • Loss of balance or coordination

  • Stiff muscles

  • Shuffle or drag of feet when walking

  • Muscle fatigue

  • Muscle weakness

  • Trouble sitting or standing up

  • Changes in sleep

  • Challenges controlling bladder or bowels

  • Uncontrollable twitches

As dementia progresses the physical impact may also increase. It is important to try and keep moving. This could mean a higher need for help. Those living with dementia should not sit for too long as this will increase their risk for further mobility challenges and even pressure ulcers.

Understanding daily activities for people living with dementia

The physical impacts experienced by those living with dementia can result in daily activities becoming more challenging. Daily activities can still have a positive impact on daily life even if the individual can not do them the same way they had in the past. It is important to still allow them to take part in hobbies and activities. For example, if the individual loves to knit they may no longer be able to knit an item but they can still hold the wool, find enjoyment in holding the needles or comfort in organising their materials.

Alzheimer's Association suggests that daily activities when organized throughout the day can be beneficial not only for the person living with dementia but also for caregivers. A well planned day allows for activities that bring meaning and enjoyment. When developing a plan, it is important to remember that each person is different, consider:

  • Likes, dislikes, strengthens, abilities and interests

  • How they previously structured their day

  • The times of day where the individual functions the best

  • Allow the appropriate time for meals, bathing and dressing, to prevent the individual from feeling rushed

  • Set regular times to wake up and for going to sleep

How to keep people living with dementia involved in daily activities

Keeping the individual living with dementia as involved as possible with daily tasks helps them to find more engagement and fulfilment throughout the day. Once a caregiver has a clear understanding of the individual abilities and likes, those living with dementia can help with everyday tasks. These could include, but not limited to:

  • Creating a shopping list

  • Gardening

  • Taking the dog for a walk

  • Laying the table

  • Assist with cleaning

  • Hanging the washing

  • Sorting and organizing drawers

  • Flower arrangements

  • Feeding pets

  • Sweeping floors

Each person is different and assessing the individual wants, needs, likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses can lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the daily activities that they can be a part of. The abilities of the individual can change as dementia progresses, therefore it is important to continuously assess their ability and make adjustments to the daily activities ensuring they are getting the most out of their day!


The Alzheimer Society of Ireland

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