Caring for an elderly person with dementia is an undeniably challenging endeavor. Dementia is a progressive condition that slowly chips away at what a person is capable of doing, saying, and remembering. Many elderly people reach a point when they are so mentally and physically limited that their caregivers cease any attempts to engage them in interactive activities. However, research has consistently shown that engaging dementia sufferers in daily activities can help them retain cognitive function and slow down the destructive progression of their condition. Activities for seniors with dementia don't have to be big, complicated affairs - focusing on a simple task is enough. And of course, you should always make the activity fun!
- You must take into consideration the severity of the person's dementia. The tasks involved should be things that they can realistically perform. Offer them a little bit of a challenge but nothing that will be too overwhelming.
- Consider what their past interests were. This will give you a good indication as to the types of activities or games they would like to engage in. Perhaps you can modify one of their favorite hobbies to make it more manageable with their current cognitive ability.
- Activities should always be a collaborative effort. It is really important that dementia sufferers feel like they belong and have a purpose. Sometimes simply performing daily chores like washing dishes or taking out the garbage with them can do wonders for their morale. And do activities in a group whenever possible to make it a social event.
- Physical activity is just as important as mental exercises. Leisurely walks are an excellent way to get elderly people moving and breathing the fresh air.
Some Fun Ideas to Get You Started:
There is a complex explanation for why smell and memory are linked - it involves how the olfactory bulbs are associated with the limbic system in the brain - but all you really need to know is that scents have a very strong ability to trigger specific memories and elicit powerful emotions. Therefore, activities involving different scents can be very helpful for dementia suffers who struggle to cling to their disappearing memories.
To play Smell-a-Cup, simply place different strong (and preferably pleasant) smelling substances in separate plastic cups - vanilla extract, essential oils, foods, anything goes! Blindfold the participants and allow them to sniff each cup in turn and guess what the cup contains. Encourage them to take their time and really think about their answer. Then remove the blindfold and have them sniff again while actually seeing the substances. Compare their initial answers when blindfolded to their second answers after the blindfold was removed.
- Schedule Building
Elderly people with dementia often have a difficult time remembering their daily routines. Visual aids can help them remember what they should be doing at any given point during the day. Not to mention the fact that making the visual aid can be lots of fun!
First, take pictures of them throughout the day while they are doing specific daily activities like brushing their teeth, eating breakfast, going for a walk, watching television, etc. Print out these pictures and work with them to create a rough timeline and place the pictures at their corresponding times. Then go crazy decorating the picture schedule and put it up in the patient's room or a highly visible location.
- Read Aloud
Find something fun and interesting to read it aloud to a group. If the material is engaging, it will hopefully spark discussion among the group. Try magazines, picture books, short stories, or even Dr. Seuss books.
- Sorting Activities
Asking dementia sufferers to sort different items according to specific categories is a great critical thinking activity that requires them to compare objects while remembering the rules of categorization. For example, you could have them sort nail polish by color, buttons by size, coins by date, or playing cards by suit.
As far as activities go, you are really only limited by your imagination. Don't be afraid to try something new. If it isn't a big hit, you can just do a different activity next time! And don't forget, if you ever feel like you need some help, don't be afraid to contact a professional for some advice.
David Cormier is a blogger for Always Best Care, who have been assisting families with non-medical in-home care and assisted living placement since 1996.