Living with cancer and dementia

It is important for someone with cancer and dementia to look after their general health as much as possible. This can help prevent some problems in the future.


Looking after everyday health

It is important for someone with cancer and dementia to look after their general health as much as possible. This can help prevent some problems in the future and may give them back a feeling of control. You might find the following tips useful:

  • Help them to take medications as prescribed. You can ask the pharmacist to put their medicines in a pill organiser (dosette box). Pills are placed in individual boxes marked with the day and time of when to take them.
  • Encourage them to have regular check-ups with their GP or practice nurse. If they feel unwell, try to get them to see the GP promptly.
  • Help them keep up to date with hearing, eye and dental checks to find any problems early. You and the person you care for may also be able to have the annual flu jab.

Eating well and keeping to a healthy weight

It is important for someone with cancer and dementia to try to eat well and maintain a healthy weight.

We have some tips on managing eating problems in someone with cancer and dementia and some general information about healthy eating.

Keeping active

Being physically active can be good for the person you care for. It can help improve symptoms such as:

It may also reduce stress and help them sleep better.

Encourage them to start slowly and gradually do more. To begin with, try to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting or lying down. Just moving around the house and doing simple everyday things will help.

If they can manage short walks or gentle stretching exercises, you could help them do this. You could check if there are any exercise classes in the local area.

Age UK runs exercise classes in some areas of the UK. They also have a leaflet called Strength and balance exercises for healthy ageing which you may find helpful.

Alcohol and tobacco

People with dementia may enjoy an alcoholic drink sometimes. But they can become more confused after drinking alcohol, so you may need to limit how much they have. They may need help remembering how much they have had.

It is not advisable to drink alcohol with some medicines. Check with the GP or pharmacist if it is safe for the person you care for to have alcohol. People whose dementia is linked to drinking alcohol in the past should not drink alcohol.

Giving up smoking is the single most important thing someone can do for their health. Smoking can increase the risk of bone thinning (osteoporosis), some cancers and heart disease.

Memory problems

Memory problems caused by dementia can be different for each person. Someone who also has cancer may need help remembering treatment plans or ways to manage symptoms. Some treatments have specific advice. For example, you may need to help the person you care for remember if:

  • they should not eat certain types of food while on treatment
  • they need to be careful to avoid infection
  • they have side effects – so they can let their healthcare team know
  • they need to take cancer medicines in addition to their usual everyday medicines.

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our bowel cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia 2015: Aiming higher to transform lives. 2015.

    Gosney et al. Dementia and Cancer: A review of current literature and practices. 2013.

    The Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project (DEEP) Guide: Writing dementia-friendly information. 2013.


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.