More and more people are currently looking for things to do to reduce their risk of developing dementia. Diet modification, brain teasers, exercise and meditation are all popular tactics. What about those who have already been diagnosed? As we learn how to become better carers, it is important to learn about what activities will help to engage someone who has been diagnosed with dementia, regardless of the level of the disease.
Things to remember before you begin
We know 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 carer: meet your loved one where they are.
It is common for someone with 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 for them. 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 socialisation for seniors. However, people with dementia can become anxious and frightened in large groups or unfamiliar environments. Instead, try to ensure smaller group settings for social interactions. 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 carers are of the utmost importance. The primary carer needs to create a circle or community of friends and family that can be supportive and can help with keeping their 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.
Considerations and guidelines for choosing activities
Along with the social components of caring for someone with dementia, it is important for the carer(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 shops and buy what they need? 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 is important as they can be ever changing. 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.
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 utilising.
- 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.
- 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 outside.
- 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 you can do with your loved one whenever possible.
Tips for Dementia Carers
Clearly, there are challenges with dementia caring. A carer’s role and responsibilities change constantly and can be both enriching and draining. It is important that carers develop a structure of support for themselves while they are caring for their loved one. When interacting with someone with dementia, keeping these tips in mind can help both the one affected by dementia and the carer. 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. Offer choices that are appropriate and do not create anxiety or fear.
By being aware of these guidelines and understanding the stage of dementia that is evident , it is possible to create a routine and/or list of activities that will keep your loved one as engaged, encouraged and supported as they can be.