Dementia-friendly activities can be a fantastic way to help mitigate some of the more difficult feelings and behaviours associated with this condition. Boredom, loneliness, anxiety and irritability can all be decreased by keeping those you care for engaged with positive and confidence-building activities. Keeping both body and mind stimulated in a fun and gentle way can do wonders in making patients and loved ones feel better. It can even help to slow down mental deterioration making it an important aspect of any treatment.
A few things to consider
Before choosing your dementia-friendly activities, you’ll want to consider:
- The person’s strengths, weaknesses, abilities, interests, likes and dislikes
- The routines and structures which make up the person’s day
- What time of day may be optimal
- What time regular activities like bathing, dressing and meals occur
- Waking up and going to bedtime (especially if the dementia-sufferer struggles with sleep issues)
- Leave space in the day for spontaneity too!
Another crucial consideration is the progression of their disease. As the condition progresses, you will have to adapt these exercises – creativity and flexibility are key.
Remember, as well, that the need to be successful is an innate human trait. Make your activities failure-free in order for your loved one to simply enjoy the activity so they don’t have to worry about completing it or doing it ‘right’.
If your loved one or patient lacks stimulation or you simply need a little inspiration for things you can do together, here are a few ideas.
Stimulating activities and ideas for Dementia sufferers
DIY and ’useful’ activities
It’s likely that your patient or loved one has cared for others just as much as they now need support. It can be hard to accept your role when you can’t contribute as much as you might wish to. For this reason, those with dementia often thrive from being asked to help with ‘useful’ activities.
For instance, you can remind them of pleasant memories of helping out around the house with gentle tasks such as sorting clothing pegs, making some sandwiches, etc. Many patients and loved ones also miss being able to use certain skill sets. Knowing your patient or loved one’s work history, means you can design tasks which mirror their old skillsets. Give an ex-farmer some paper and pens and ask them to design a new chicken coop, for example, or have a former accountant sort some coins.
Gentle arts & crafts projects
Creativity can trigger real feelings of accomplishment and purpose for those with dementia. Art can also reduce agitation and increase quality of life as it distracts from challenging patterns of behaviour. It also provides a chance for self-expression, which can be great for the caregiver, too!
Remember to engage with your loved one on an adult level, to avoid making the project seem childlike or feel demeaning. Though you may have to help them to begin with (for example, holding their hand for the first brush stroke), they’ll quickly become engaged with their task and find a real sense of pride in creating.
One fun craft project is flower arranging. Not only is it a relaxing activity, but it’s also a fantastic way to brighten up your loved one’s living space. Pick a bunch of flowers (fresh if you readily have some to hand – but evidently make sure they are all non-toxic varieties) or put together a collection of artificial ones. Provide a plastic vase or two and ask them to arrange the flowers for you.
Music can be a powerful tool for dementia sufferers. Studies have illustrated that music can improve mental function in the short term, whilst also reducing agitation and improving or disrupting challenging behaviours, particularly those common in the middle stages of progression.
Ask them for their favourite songs. If they find this hard to communicate, use your best efforts to work this out or investigate what songs were popular when they were 15-35 years old. Then start with something like “Let’s reminisce together!” and sing some of these to them. For an Active Session, encourage them to sing, play or participate rhythmically. Props such as instruments like maracas, cymbals or rhythm sticks are great for this.
Remember that music can be very evocative; distinct memories may be triggered by certain songs, so be prepared to support and empathise with them as memories, both glad and sad, may return.
Visits from friends and family
Visitors should always be encouraged. In fact, dementia sufferers often feel content long after a visit, even if they’ve forgotten about it. Seeing familiar faces can both stimulate memories and prompt social interactions your patient or loved one with dementia may really enjoy.
If arranging a visit, make sure any visitors approach your patient or loved one from the front and that they sit with them at eye level (so as not to overpower them). Keep the atmosphere light, jovial and relaxing while letting your loved one lead the conversation. There may be times when you all talk quite a bit and others when there are lulls in the conversation. All this is perfectly normal for those with dementia, so make sure to reassure visitors and ensure they’re just as comfortable with these moments of quiet.
Remember their spirituality
Many dementia and Alzheimer’s sufferers have had faith carry them through their lives. Even where you do not share the same beliefs, it can be both comforting and stimulating to be reminded of passages of scripture from their holy texts or to ask them if they can recall a prayer which you can speak together. Try to equip yourself with a central prayer or two, so that you can begin the prayer and see if the memory of this spiritual history is triggered.
If your patient or loved one seems bored, distracted, or irritated by your activity suggestion, move on to a different activity or a period of rest. It’s not important what the final product of your activity is, especially with an art or puzzle-type project – what’s key is there’s is the sense of pride, accomplishment and joy that the person gets from completing it.
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