Staying healthy

8. What to do about smoking and alcohol

Smoking 

It's common knowledge that smoking is bad for us, and when a person has memory loss smoking not only damages their health, it can also mean an increased fire risk.

Some people with dementia have been known to simply forget about smoking if cigarettes and ashtrays are removed from sight. Some people seek to stop their loved ones with dementia from smoking. However, if the person stops smoking, they may become tense and irritable. There are also ethical considerations around the person's right to continue to enjoy something that they have enjoyed in the past, even if it is bad for them. This is something that should be discussed with the person with dementia, if possible, or with friends and family before a final decision is made.

If someone with dementia does smoke, those around them should try to make it as safe as possible - for example, by replacing matches with disposable lighters.

For those wanting to quit smoking, there is plenty of support available from the GP.

Alcohol

Having a drink in company can be a pleasant way to relax. However, people with dementia can become more confused after a drink, so may need to limit the amount they have. Also, alcohol doesn't mix well with certain medicines. If in doubt, ask the GP for advice. People who have dementia related to past alcohol use should not drink alcohol.

If someone with dementia seems to be drinking too much because they've forgotten how much they've had, or if they are drinking inappropriately, you may choose to keep alcohol out of reach and out of sight. You might also decide to provide low alcohol or non-alcoholic substitutes, or watered down alcoholic drinks. As with smoking, it is important to balance the issue of the person's right to enjoy a pleasurable activity against the risk it may pose.