If a loved one has been afflicted with dementia, it can be challenging to connect with him or her. However, there are many activities for dementia patients that family members can still perform with an individual that will have a positive impact on the quality of their life. These activities will vary depending on where a loved one is in the disease’s progression.
Understanding dementia is the first step in designating any form of activity, but who the person is as an individual—and how they respond to these activities in normal conditions–also plays a role. What remains important, regardless, is that every activity performed has meaning for the person with dementia.
Existence with Meaning
One of the first steps to determining activities for dementia patients, is understanding what they can do (and not focusing on what they are unable to do). Activities can be passive or active, and often a loved one may be more comfortable simply observing a task—without engaging.
Each activity should be based on the stage of their dementia and their level of cognizance. Every activity should be deemed a success, with purpose and meaning, and the task or activity should always remain failure-free (so as to not upset the person with dementia). The idea is to pull a person’s mind away from the disease, not chastise them for underperforming.
Although each activity performed with an individual with dementia is adding to the quality of their life, it is important to focus on tasks that will produce value for that person. The following are some areas of inspiration and suggestions on how family members and friends can reach out and engage with a loved one.
Activities for Dementia Patients
People afflicted with dementia often hold on to old memories. In fact, it is not uncommon for many people to regress back into childhood tendencies and interests.
Helping a loved one with dementia recall his or her younger years has been known to provide a great deal of comfort to people. Here are a few ideas in which family members can take a walk down memory lane with a loved one:
- Photo Albums: This is an easy one, but it is incredibly important to keeping a person grounded (particularly with such a confusing disorder). Spending time looking through pictures of childhood and other fond memories tends to settle an individual, and calm them. Often, when a loved one is reminded of his or her youth, dementia can take a back seat to intense nostalgia.
- Make a Memory Bag: For people that may be in a later stage of dementia, they may need to rely on other senses to recall important memories. A memory bag is simply an item that holds all of a loved one’s favorite things—which may spark some memories. This can include smells like soaps and perfumes, tastes (like favorite candies), or even touch (their choice of fabric).
- Watch Old Movies/Sing Old Songs: Music (and media in general) has been known to bring people with dementia back to a more cognizant space. Find out what their favorite movie or song is, and surprise them with a showing. Encourage a loved one to sing along to their favorite songs, and bring them back to a place of warm memories. Again, bank on engaging their senses for success.
- Yard Sales: Most modern stores are likely not going to carry the products a loved one with dementia used to buy. An innovative way to get them engaged with items from their era is to check out local thrift stores and yard sales. Everything from magazines to sewing machines can be observed and enjoyed nostalgically with a loved one. This type of activity only requires observation from an individual, and thus is a very low-stress type of task.
In addition to activities that create fond memories for a person, another form of engaging someone with dementia, is to play to their skill-sets.
Focus on Skills
Was the loved one a great cook? Did they sew or do woodworking? Depending on the stage of their illness, it may be a good idea to choose an activity that plays to their interests. Looking through family cookbooks is a great way to engage a former family chef.
If a loved one is in the later stages of dementia, simply asking them to shuck corn or mash potatoes can be an engaging activity. No matter what stage of their disease, most people are still able to recognize their interests and the activities they excelled in during their youth. Just be sure to keep the tasks well within a loved one’s physical and mental compatibilities at the time.
In addition, activities of daily routine can also be engaging for an individual with dementia. Allowing people to gain back even a small portion of control over their former lives allows them to better accept their current position, and helps them to remain calm. Ask the loved one to do small chores like folding the laundry or sweeping to keep them involved.
Exercise activities are beneficial for virtually everyone. If the loved one enjoys the outdoors, going for a nature walk can not only be physically stimulating for their body, but mentally and emotionally engaging as well.
Walking is usually the most common form of exercise, but there are all sorts of movements that are perfectly acceptable for a person with dementia. A multitude of chair exercises for seniors can be found online. The idea is to keep people moving, and it can stimulate their entire bodies, including the brain.
Social activities are heavily reliant on a loved one’s stage of dementia. For instance, taking them to a children’s party may be perfectly tolerable for someone recently afflicted, but it may be absolutely overwhelming for a person in the late stages of dementia. This is why it is crucial to thoroughly understand the individual and their needs prior to engaging with them in social activities.
If family members feel a loved one is okay with a family interaction, then allowing them to engage with others socially is one of the most rewarding activities for dementia patients. If taking a loved one out of the home, make sure to prepare them for the trip, and keep an eye out for any signs of confusion or distress. More often than not, social events add a tremendous amount of quality to their life.
Once a loved one has reached a point where nostalgic, skill-based (and even social interactions) are not effective, choosing activities that play to their senses are often the most enjoyable.
More than likely, at this stage, a person is unable to communicate, but that does not mean that the quality of their life need be diminished. In order to offer an engaging environment, think about the 5 senses:
Touch: Perhaps one of the most valuable of all senses, touch is important to a person with late stage dementia. The following are a few ideas to consider for activities involving touch:
- Hand massage
- Pet therapy
- Different types of fabric
- Jewelry box
Sight: Encourage the loved one to take in their environment through their eyes and visual cues. Some activities are:
- Bird watching
- Wind chimes
- Fish tanks
- Window crystals
- Black lights
Smell: More often than not, it is the scent of a moment that brings forward a memory. Here are a few things suggestions that involve scents that a loved one may enjoy:
- Scented candle
- Cooking and baking
Sound: One of the most engaging activities a person with dementia responds to is auditory. The following are some ways to soothe a person with late-stage dementia:
- Simple conversation
Taste: This can be a slippery slope, as many people in this stage of dementia should not be putting much in their mouths. However, a loved one can still have the quality of life to taste specific things. Here are a few ideas:
- Ice Cream
Late-stage dementia patients typically require a different form of activities. It’s important to keep their 5 senses responsive and engaged as much as possible. Also keep in mind any physical limitations they may have, and adjust activities accordingly.
Activities improve the quality of anyone’s life, regardless of age or illness. It is important to keep people engaged and stimulated during all stages of their dementia. Understanding where the loved one is during their journey is the first part to planning daily activities for dementia patients.
One of the most important activities a loved one with dementia can engage in, is social interaction. Keep people around, and let their love lift up a loved one with this disease. Focus on skills and specific interests, and try to get exercise in whenever possible. Above all, make them feel like the person they have always been, and always will be. Contact Caring Hands Matter for more information.