Living with cancer and dementia

It is important to help someone with cancer and dementia to look after their general health. Try to make sure they take medicines as prescribed and attend regular healthcare check-ups. They may be able to have the annual flu jab.

Being physically active can improve tiredness, sleeping problems, poor appetite and constipation. You may be able to help the person you care for to take short walks or do gentle stretching exercises.

People with dementia should limit how much alcohol they drink. The GP can tell you whether it is safe for them to drink alcohol. If they smoke you could talk to them about giving up.

Memory problems caused by dementia can be worrying and frustrating for both of you. Try to:

  • help them keep to routines
  • encourage them to keep lists
  • encourage them to write information down.

There are many assistive technology aids for memory problems, such as clocks, calendars and safety devices. Assistive technology can help the person you care for to live independently and safely in their home.

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 time and day 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 identify any problems early. You and the person you care for may also be able to have the annual flu jab.

Being her daughter, I could be a little more insistent with things like medication. I just kept on saying, “Mum, you really have to. They are doing you good."


Eating well and keeping to a healthy weight

Keeping active

Being physically active can be good for the person you care for. It can help improve symptoms such as tiredness, poor appetite and constipation. Activity may also reduce stress and help them sleep better.

You could encourage them to start slowly and gradually build up the amount they do. To begin with, try to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting or lying down. Just moving around the house and doing simple day to day things will help.

If they can manage short walks or gentle stretching exercises, you could help them do this. Ask their GP or nurse if there are any exercise classes in the local area. Also ask if there are any physical activities that they should avoid.

Age UK has a leaflet called Strength and balance exercises for healthy ageing, which you might find helpful.

Alcohol and tobacco

People with dementia can become more confused after drinking alcohol. It is important that they limit how much they drink. 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 whether it is safe for the person you care for to have 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. They may include things like forgetting dates, appointments or names, or getting lost in familiar places. Some people may continually lose everyday objects, such as keys or mobile phones, around the house.

Memory problems can be worrying and frustrating. But there are things you can do to help the person you care for:

  • Keep to routines and help them to only do one thing at a time.
  • Get them to make lists and tick off completed tasks.
  • Encourage them to complete everyday tasks in a calm, quiet environment with no distractions.
  • Break information into small chunks to make it easier to remember.
  • If it helps, write the information down for them.

There is lots of information online about coping with memory loss. You can also order free booklets and leaflets, as well as CDs. For example, Alzheimer’s Society has a book called The memory handbook: A practical guide to living with memory problems.

Assistive technology for memory problems

Assistive technology can help the person you care for to stay independent and improve safety in their home. These may be aids such as:

  • clocks, calendars or phones that have numbers set into them
  • safety devices to switch off gas supplies or taps if they are left on.

You can order assistive technology from organisations such as AT Dementia and Unforgettable.

Making lists and having a routine can really help.

Margaret, a member of the Great Camden Minds DEEP group

Back to Dementia and cancer

Advanced cancer and dementia

If it is not possible to control the cancer, the person you care for will be able to have treatments to manage any symptoms.