If you’re at a loss for things to do with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, you needn’t be. The possibilities are endless. Almost ANYTHING can lead to engaging life when you are present in the moment. Open your eyes and your heart to really being in a space and doing activities that bring you both pleasure.
A person with Alzheimer’s disease can take you back to old places and fond memories as well as to new places you never dreamed existed. All you have to do is open the door to their world and step through the threshold together. Remember to be curious and childlike. Rediscover how exciting exploration can be. See magic and possibility instead of tragedy and limitations. I have enjoyed doing a whole slew of activities with people with dementia at all “stages” of the disease.
Here are five things you can do when your loved one is still at home, and five others that may be more appropriate when he or she is in a care facility; anyone else can do them too (a PDF of 91 more is at the bottom of the post):
1) Arrange Flowers
In summer, we picked wildflowers together and used many of the beautiful vessels and vases at our disposal to create stunning arrangements. In winter, I bought a couple of bouquets at the local grocery store on Mondays when they were on sale and re-arranged them several times through the week.
2) Solve Puzzles
I bought a BIG-piece puzzle of Canada and set it up on the dining room table which we rarely used for eating. The puzzle sat there at the ready whenever we felt like working on it. This was a great activity we did over and over again for about eight months until it became more frustrating than enjoyable.
The need for exercise never ends, especially for people who are active and sporty. People with dementia don’t lose the ability to walk until late in the disease so we walked every day come rain, snow or shine.
The benefits of exercise for human beings and animals of any age are well documented. Exercise burns calories and excess energy and has a calming effect. It helps sleep patterns and improves attitude. There’s no downside.
Making and giving away baked goods is something many women enjoy doing – whether they are young or old and whether they have dementia or not. As the diseases progresses people with dementia may need more help, but they still take great pleasure in the process as well as the results.
I find it helpful to get out and measure all the ingredients before we start to mix things together. Putting each ingredient away after it’s added is a good way of tracking what has been done.
Men may be more accustomed to woodworking, “fixing,” or doing DIY chores around the house. Use the same “baking” principles to help them feel useful.
At a certain point in the progression of the disease many people with dementia take to folding whatever is at hand – napkins, tissues, dishtowels, papers, newspapers, etc. Folding often had a calming effect on my uncle for example even though he often did it it in a somewhat compulsive way. You may find yourself supervising the folding of lots of laundry!
When you visit your loved one in a care facility, there are still many activities to enjoy together.
Singing can be done anywhere, anytime and is such an uplifting activity. I learned many old favourites and have spent hundreds of hours enjoying informal singsongs with people who have dementia. We burst into song whenever the mood strikes us.
7) Play music
With the help of a healing music coach PWD may “learn” how to play the piano and other musical instruments. They often enjoy keeping the beat with percussion instruments as well as their hands and feet.
I have sung literally thousands of songs during hundreds of hours of healing music sessions the joy of which I sometimes find hard to put into words. I’m so grateful for what I learned as a result of these musical miracles.
One person living with dementia surprised and delighted me by counting the chimes when her old antique clock struck the hour. It inspired me to string some colourful wooden beads on a shoelace. She spent lots of happy hours counting the beads as she moved them back and forth along the string while I encouraged her.
9) Walk some more
I encourage you to walk with your PWD every day and to encourage them to exercise in whatever way they can. While the ground you cover may be a tiny fraction of what you had been used to, it’s even more important to a person’s overall health to stand up and move around was the disease progresses. Help your loved one achieve her or his goal to keep going as long as she or he can.
Socializing and being included in conversations is a great blessing to people with dementia.
Your choice of activity should accommodate the capacities of those involved, the mood of the moment, personal preferences, physical considerations, the environment, available resources, etc.
The important thing is to do something that stimulates, engages and is fun for the person with dementia as well as the care partner who doesn’t have dementia.
Here’s a PDF of 101 “starter ideas” I recreated from an Alzheimer’s Association post: 101 Activities Dementia Care Partners Can do Together
Of those listed, I have done at least half. I’ve also done some not on the list, which I intend to share in the future. Stay tuned! Another great idea is to plan weekly outings to a local club or activity center purpose-built for seniors. Find tips about that here.