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Useful Activities to Engage Someone Diagnosed with Dementia

lessonslearnedEvery dementia and family journey is different. But many of us wonder how to enrich the lives of those we are caring for. Now that both of my parents are gone, I treasure the moments we spent together. I could hold a hand, even when we couldn’t hold a conversation. Finding enjoyable moments took trial and error.

I have seen a host of lists lately that have a zillion activities you can review that might be useful. Here is a recent one from Dementia Today.

One of the most important aspects of any activity needs to consider the interests and physical health of your loved one. When my mom was able to easily walk, we would go grocery shopping, have lunch, or even take a walk around her community. On a rainy day we would focus on a puzzle or look at old pictures. I realized that she was most comfortable when we could reconnect her to her past interests and pleasures as well as find something we normally did together.

After the first fall, when mom wasn’t so sure on her feet and wanted to spend time in bed, I would just tell her stories. I usually had some pictures on my phone and could share a snapshot of my son at a recent track meet, or a movie of my daughter dancing. Since we were in her bedroom, sometimes I would pull out socks to sort and fold; read letters she had saved; or just put on some music and sit quietly.

The activities varied and over the course of three years, we moved through many of these cycles. However, what I learned early on was that both my parents craved meaning and purpose in their activities and a connection to their interests. I would often try to get my parents to a BINGO game and they always refused. However, after dad was gone, the community staff got my mom to join the BINGO games and if I arrived to visit during one, she wanted to stay and continuing playing. It helped that they could win chocolate bars. Mom also began to enjoy the daily programs where she could do simple crafts even though I could never get her to paint or color with me.

When we introduced personal care assistants, things changed and the activities varied. Some managed to get mom interested in programs within the community, and others created new habits that often surprised me. My mom’s last caregiver doted on my mom. She would style her hair, paint her nails (something my mom never did before), and put on make-up. By the time they were done, my mom looked fantastic.

In the later stages when mom sometimes recognized me, but still had her wry wit, she was unhappy with the group activities. I watched as my mom would sit in the room while the others participated. She looked so lonely it made me cry. However, when I would join her and started to participate, she immediately brightened and would join in. My mom was never a group activity gal.

There isn’t an easy answer. The activities will change, and what your loved one wants to do with you, might not be a good fit with a personal care assistant. There is no harm in trying. Experimented. 

A reader, Mary Smith @marysmithwriter shared, “What worked really well was what we called his ‘fidget box’ into which I’d put an assortment of things – some old pictures of horses (he always loved horses), a couple of coffee mats with pictures on them, a tiny trophy with World’s Greatest Granddad on it – all sorts of things. Some days he ignored it and even if offered it showed no interest, other days he would rummage in that box for hours. I still have that box!”

 

 

6 comments on “Useful Activities to Engage Someone Diagnosed with Dementia

  1. This is good information. My father also was not one for group activities. He never played bingo or board games, nor did he do puzzles or enjoy crafts. His only hobby was reading, and at a certain point on the dementia journey, you lose that ability. That was heartbreaking for me. I guess if I could have spent more time with him I might have tried audio books or reading aloud to him.

  2. Thanks for this post Beth. I’m currently trying to work out how much cognitive stimulation to build into our daily schedule. As you will have seen in my Blog we sing and dance on most days. We have just been walking and I have used it as an opportunity to test Maureen’s road awareness and he ability to find her way home. I’m optimistic that she is relearning her Green Cross Code and with patience on my behalf she can relearn how to find her way home.

  3. You are right about the need to experiment to find activities the person enjoys. In the later stages when dad could no longer play the simplest of card games we assumed he would have no interest in a pack of cards – how wrong we were. I can’t remember how he first got hold of a pack but he spent hours shuffling the cards, ‘sorting’ them into what he seemed to think were the correct suits, laying them out and collecting them up to shuffle again. He was totally absorbed in the activity so we always left a pack of cards within reach.
    We tried to create a reminisence box with old family photos but it was never really successful. What worked really well was what we called his ‘fidget box’ into which I’d put an assortment of things – some old pictures of horses (he always loved horses), a couple of coffee mats with pictures on them, a tiny trophy with World’s Greatest Granddad on it – all sorts of things. Some days he ignored it and even if offered it showed no interest, other days he would rummage in that box for hours. I still have that box!

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