People are racing for things to do to reduce their risk of developing dementia. Changing diets, taking on challenging brain teasers, exercising, meditating, and eating more vegetables are all popular tactics. Even more theories and tactics are emerging which may actually help prevent dementia in all its forms.
What about those who have already been diagnosed? As we learn how to become better caregivers, it is important to learn about what activities will help to engage someone who has been diagnosed regardless of the level of the disease.
Where to Begin When Planning Dementia-Friendly Activities
The one thing we do know is that being active and engaged is one way to slow the onset of dementia. So, where is a good place to begin? A good first rule for any caregiver: Meet your loved one where they are.
It is common for someone with a diagnosis of dementia to withdraw from social activities and events that are too stimulating. They try to hide symptoms and compensate with strategies that make sense to them. It is important to figure out ways to engage and interact with someone with dementia as it is unfolding. Here are some guidelines:
- Avoid pointing out what they can no longer do. Respectfully, focus on options that compensate for skills that they may have lost. For example, if your loved one can no longer drive, sign up for a ridesharing program together or offer to drive them to events or appointments in a way that is supportive, genuine, and non-shaming.
- Manage social events. There are many benefits to socialization for seniors. However, people with dementia can become anxious and frightened in large groups or unfamiliar environments. Instead, try to gather smaller group settings for social interaction. Dinners at home with a handful of people rather than larger gatherings in a restaurant are more supportive for someone who is navigating dementia.
- Develop a support circle. Friends and family who understand and are willing to learn how to be great caregivers are of the utmost importance. The primary caregiver needs to create a circle or community of friends and family that can be supportive and can help with keeping the loved one engaged. Let them know that they will always be a vitally important presence in the family and community.
These basic guidelines will help you create a strong foundation that will help you determine activities that are engaging and nurturing for your loved one.
How to Choose Appropriate Activities for Dementia Patients
Along with the social components of caring for someone with dementia, it is important for the caregiver(s) to be intimately aware of a broad range of contributing factors in determining what will be helpful in maintaining an engaged and fulfilling day for a loved one. Here are some guidelines to take into account:
- Abilities and skills. This is a broad topic, however, keeping track of how basic skills and abilities are deteriorating is vital. Is the person able to maintain their personal hygiene? Are they able to go to the grocery store and shop? Can they prepare a simple meal? Set the table? Clean up after a meal? Use a computer or phone? Are they having any trouble with tasks that have for the most part always been taken for granted?
- Focus on enjoyment not achievement. What is naturally enjoyable? Meet your loved one with dementia where they are and guide them to do what they naturally find easy and enjoyable. Following this guiding principle will aid in reducing stress.
- Be aware of any physical limitations. Paying attention to your loved one’s physical abilities and changes is always a moving target. Pay attention to energy levels, any changes in hearing, vision, or flexibility. Physical changes will require modification in activities so that they are still enjoyable. If your loved one gets tired or agitated, take a break.
o Encourage involvement in daily life
o Low hanging fruit of doing what is easy a favorite activity
o Consider time of day
o Adjust activities to accommodate stages of dementia
8 Stimulating Activities for Someone with Dementia
Keeping in mind all the various stages of dementia, there are a few common activities that can be enjoyed at any stage. Some accommodation might be required, but these activities can be very engaging and encouraging.
- Bake something or cook meals together. Keep it simple and encourage your loved one. Especially if they have a history of loving to bake or cook. This is a great activity for feeling a sense of accomplishment.
- Play music that your loved one enjoys. Sing with them or even dance. The power of music in dementia care is something that is definitely worth utilizing.
- Read with them or to them. Read a book or story that they love and are familiar with, it may spark some memories or conversation.
- Draw, paint, do puzzles, or play games. This can be fun and relaxing for some, but look out for your loved one potentially getting upset that they are not ‘as good’ as they used to be at something. This is where your discernment is vital.
- Watch a program, movie, or family videos. This can be stimulating and foster interesting conversation or wonderful memories.
- Do some gardening. Planting flowers for spring can be a great way to encourage a little extra physical activity while spending time in the garden or on the terrace.
- Keep a pet. For many, having a pet around is soothing and calming. There are many benefits of pets for seniors. Although a crucial factor with this is having someone available to make sure that the pet is being properly cared for under all circumstances. For advanced dementia patients who have had animals in their life, a stuffed animal could also bring calmness and comfort.
- Go on a short outing in nature. This is a wonderful and simple way to spend time together. Whether it’s a walk or a wheelchair excursion, getting some fresh air is something to do with your loved one whenever possible.
Tips for Dementia Caregivers
Clearly, there are challenges with dementia caregiving. A caregiver’s role is all encompassing and nuanced. It changes consistently and can be both enriching and draining. It is important that caregivers develop a structure of support for themselves while in service to their loved one. When interacting with someone with dementia, keeping these tips in mind can help both the one affected by dementia and the caregiver. Remember to:
- Be patient and flexible.
- Provide encouragement and support.
- Avoid correcting.
- Simplify instructions.
- Establish a daily routine.
- Encourage as much independence as is possible, and offer choices that are appropriate and do not create anxiety or fear.
By being aware of these guidelines and understanding where in the trajectory of dementia they fit, a routine and list of activities will emerge that keep your loved one as engaged and encouraged as they can be.