As loved ones or patients who have Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia slowly lose the ability to plan, initiate and complete even simple things to keep busy and engaged, families and home health professionals often need ideas for activities that the person can do or that a caregiver can do with them. It can be especially difficult to find meaningful activities that will contribute to the person’s mental health and physical well-being, rather than just a time-filler, like watching TV for hours on end.
“The biggest thing to remember with a person with dementia is that they’re a person with dementia,” says Cameron Camp, Director and Senior Research Scientist, Myers Research Institute. “There will always be part of that individual who wants to help, participate, and succeed. Although as the caregiver you will want to find activities that take into account lost abilities, you should always focus on the person and not the disease. Even if your loved one does not remember the activity or the joy he feels from taking part in a project, big or small, it leaves a positive effect and contributes to an overall sense of happiness.” (See our review of the book “Creating Moments of Joy Along the Alzheimer’s Journey” for more advice and ideas.)
Start with these basic guidelines for choosing activities:
- Consider interests and abilities and try to find activities that match up. This may become increasingly difficult as dementia progresses and formerly enjoyed activities become impossible to do, so don’t feel guilty if you’re having a hard time. Sometimes all you can do is focus on keeping your loved one safe and content.
- Follow familiar routines that create a safe sense of purpose and self-worth. Allow the person to do what they can for themselves and to participate as much as possible in simple household chores.
- Provide opportunities for social interaction that the person is comfortable with. As conversation becomes more difficult, just being around friends, family or even strangers can be a welcome change, even if not much is said. If physical ability allows, take them with you on errands or to activities you enjoy.
- Encourage safe, doctor-approved, physical exercise. When weather permits, take short walks together in familiar surroundings on even surfaces. During inclement weather, even walking around the house several times a day can help to improve circulation and muscle strength.
- Select the best time of the day for each activity. Consider fatigue, thirst, hunger, and how it fits with daily routines.
- The most successful activities have meaning and relate to past interests. They allow the person to feel part of the family &/or community and give them a chance to be more present with whatever abilities they still have.
Don’t give up if your loved one seems withdrawn or resistant to participating in activities.
This becomes especially difficult if the person has difficulty putting their thoughts and preferences into words. A caregiver may have to encourage participation in an activity without any sign of enthusiasm or approval. You may have to rely on body language for willingness to continue the activity. Watch for signs of anxiety, frustration, or depression, when they cannot do what they did so easily before. Don’t push your loved one — or yourself — to continue in a particular activity if it only brings agitation.
In many cases, you will have to provide clear, simple, one-at-a-time directions and constant supervision to get and keep a loved one involved in something you know they enjoy but are now inexplicably opposed to doing. Try giving both verbal and visual instructions. Sometime I have to gently guide my husband’s hands in order for him to complete the simple task of washing them.
You may have noticed that your elderly person sometimes responds more willingly and more capably to someone other than yourself. For example, my husband may only shuffle in very short steps for me, but when asked by his doctor to walk down the hall, his gait becomes almost normal. If possible, ask family members or friends to walk with or participate in other activities that you know your elderly person can do. Sometimes, a different face can create a spark of enthusiasm to engage in an activity.
Try one of these activities, considering the advice above:
- Listen to/play music; sing old songs
- Read aloud: favorite stories, letters from family members, etc.
- Look at family photos and talk about who’s in them
- Have a friend visit with a well-behaved pet
- Play dominoes, UNO or another simple matching game
- Sort objects like buttons or blocks by shape or color
- Give a manicure or pedicure; rub in lotion
- Take a walk outside, even if the person is in a wheelchair
- Reminisce about a favorite sport, summer, famous person, family friend
- Interview the person about his or her life and record what they say
- Watch a movie
- Take a ride in the car together
- Sit outside and people watch
- Feed or just watch birds or ducks
- Help to write a letter or email to a family member
The Alzheimer’s Association has a comprehensive list of resources for both information and activities related to people with Alzheimer’s disease. Check it out here. AARP also has excellent advice and ideas in their article “Activities for People with Alzheimer’s Disease.”
As you’re planning activities to participate in with your loved one or client, remember to make them as meaningful as possible. Sticking to a regular schedule for certain activities can also make it easier to ensure the cooperation of someone who has a hard time remembering which things they like or don’t like to do.
Dakota Home Care Provides a range of medical and non-medical services to help with personal care, housekeeping, meal preparation, or just friendly companionship. Call us today to schedule a free evaluation of what we can do to help. (877) 691-0015.