Dementia Care: 5 Activities for People with Memory Loss

affordable home care assisted home care at home caregivers care for older people companion home care disability home care elder care in Minnesota eldercare at home elderly home assistance elderly home care service help for senior caregiversWhen you are caring for family members with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, it’s easy to get caught up in the tasks of daily living and to forget their needs for pleasure and mental stimulation.  Seniors with memory loss, just like everyone else, need activities to occupy their time, to improve their quality of life, and to give them a sense of purpose.  Although some seniors with dementia may spend much of their time anxious, confused, or afraid (or conversely, content and happy . . . everyone is different), either spending time with them yourself or bringing in someone else to spend time with them can do much to improve their quality of life.

When trying to think of activities to do with people who have memory loss, think about what they used to do and use that history to spur on ideas.  If you are struggling, remember that even simple activities like blowing bubbles or folding towels can be good as well.  As a help for senior caregivers, here are five great activities (of many) that family caregivers or paid at-home caregivers can do to improve the quality of life for someone living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

1.  Cooking and Baking

Many seniors grew up in a time when they made everything from scratch—cakes, cookies, entire meals.  For women, cooking or baking may help bring up memories from their younger days, and if not, it will probably still feel comfortable and familiar to them.

Although people with dementia may not be able to cook or bake independently, taking part in the process is a great activity to do with them.  With guidance, many seniors with dementia can still peel potatoes, chop fruits and vegetables, stir, use cookie cutters, butter bread, set the table, and partake in many other tasks associated with food preparation.

Because of the potential danger involved in cooking—using knives, stovetops, ovens—it’s important to take a senior’s degree of memory loss into consideration when planning kitchen-based activities.

2.  Crafts

Many seniors with Alzheimer’s or other dementias will find it very rewarding to work with their hands to produce a craft.  Although learning new skills probably won’t be possible, tapping into their existing knowledge of crafts they’ve always done, such as knitting, crocheting, or whittling, may help them feel a sense of accomplishment and can be fun.  Activities that they may be able to take part in that don’t require learning complex new skills might include scrapbooking, making simple holiday decorations, decorating picture frames, or making cards.  A quick search on Pinterest, a run down the halls of craft stores such as Michael’s, or a Google search will yield a bounty of creative crafts that seniors with dementia could safely create with a little help from a caregiver or family member.

3.  Teaching

home care services for seniors home help for the elderly in home care Minneapolis in home help for seniors in home senior care providers non medical senior care private pay home care repsite for caregivers For a time after a dementia diagnosis, seniors with dementia will maintain the memory of how to perform their favorite hobbies.  Having them teach those activities to you is an invaluable use of time.  Even if you know the task, having the senior teach it to you provides them with a sense of satisfaction and purpose, not to mention a feeling of usefulness because they are able to make a positive impact on another person’s life.  If the s enior knows how to knit, crochet, garden, fish, or tinker with tools to make birdhouses or other small building projects, ask them to teach you.  Furt her more, their memory may be such that they could teach you every week, not realizing they’ve taught you before, providing you with an easy, productive task to do together.

Unfortunately, their memory of how to do such hobbies will eventually be lost to the disease, and caregivers and family members will need to be sensitive to know when seniors can no longer teach or do the tasks.  Until that time, however, it’s a great activity.

4.  Accompanied Walking/Going for a Drive

Because the natural health benefits of exercise—both to physical and mental health—accompanying them on a walk is a great activity for many seniors with memory loss.  Fresh air and a change of scenery, not to mention the presence of a companion, can do wonders for a person’s mood, not to mention that walking is a natural mood-boosting activity.

Walking around the neighborhood can be good, but in cold weather, walking at a local mall might be fitting as well.  For a change of pace, check out local parks, river walking paths, or even historic sites.  Just be sure to stay with the person who has dementia when on any type of outing.

Similarly, going for a drive can be a great activity and give the senior a chance to see something different.  Take a drive to see fall colors, to check out a waterfront, or go through the country and look for horses.  Give them something interesting to look at and some interesting conversation, perhaps stopping for ice cream or another treat on the way.  It can be a mutually pleasant activity for both the caregiver and the senior.

5.  Looking at Pictures

Paging through scrapbooks or photo albums is a great activity to do with seniors who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.  The pictures engage them and sometimes stir up pleasant memories of the past.  If you are able to label the photos in the album, it’s even better because it helps them identify who is in the picture and what is going on.

If the photos are not labeled, it’s important not to set people with memory loss up for failure by asking them questions about the photos that they can’t answer.  Asking questions such as, “Is that your son?” are difficult because they may not know the answer.  Instead, help them identify the people in the pictures by using phrases such as, “I bet that’s your son’s birthday.”  That allows the person with memory loss to either agree or disagree, and the actual truth becomes irrelevant.

Usually, old photos will trigger memories.  Let the person reminisce, and if the photos trigger a story, go with it.  If the story isn’t true, it doesn’t matter.  Correcting people with dementia will only serve to embarrass and shame them because of something they can’t control—their memory loss.  Furthermore, if you correct them, they probably won’t remember the actual story the next time you look at the photo album anyway.

For twelve years, Right at Home has been helping seniors with dementia remain in their homes or maintain quality of life in memory care facilities in Minnesota.  For additional resources on taking care of elderly parents with dementia, check out our blogs:

taking care of elderly parents senior home assistance senior companion care senior citizen care respite for caregivers home care in Minnesota home care companies help for senior caregivers elderly home care service elderly home assistanceDementia is a Symptom, Not a Specific Disease (and Why That Matters)

The Dementia Primer:  8 Things to Know About Alzheimer’s and Dementia

The Dementia Primer:  6 Tips for Working with People with Dementia

The Dementia Primer:  7 Pitfalls of Caregiving for People with Dementia

The Dementia Primer:  12 Tips on Getting Someone with Dementia to Eat

The Journey of Dementia:  A Daughter’s Story

9 Tips in Caring for People with Dementia:  A Caregiver’s Perspective

Please keep in mind that the effects of dementia can change vastly from person to person.  Use this information as an overview, but continue to research in order to learn more as behaviors change.  A good book to reference is The 36-Hour Day by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins.

Carol Hauser, M.A.

October 1, 2013


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