Finding stimulating yet appropriate activities for someone with Alzheimer's may be challenging, as activities for Alzheimer's patients can depend on the stage of their condition. A person with mild or moderate symptoms may be able to do many activities independently, whereas those with more severe symptoms may need more support. When exploring activities for those you love, there are a few considerations to keep at the top of your list.
What Are Dementia And Alzheimer's Disease?
Dementia relates to symptoms caused by different diseases that affect the brain. While Alzheimer's is a specific disease, it is the most common cause of dementia. Over time, Alzheimer's damages the brain, leading to different symptoms and severity.
Early stages of Alzheimer's present mild symptoms, which may not interfere with one's ability to do independent activities. At later stages, however, cognitive impairment results in dementia, also known as Alzheimer's disease dementia. Dementia causes significant impairment and is degenerative, meaning it ends in death.
Factors To Bear In Mind When Introducing An Activity
Before introducing an activity as a caregiver to someone with dementia, consider the following points.
Gauge Their Mood
Consider an individual's mood before starting an activity. Are they anxious, relaxed, distracted, irritable, or content? For example, if you sense they are distracted, you may consider a more uncomplicated activity. Having options can help you adjust when needed.
Keep Their Routine In Mind
Consider the individual's routine and incorporate activities into a time when they have already finished their daily tasks, such as breakfast or lunch. Disrupting the routine of someone with dementia may cause them distress, which could lead to the activity not being effective.
Consider Environment And Time Of Day
Ensure the individual's activity space is free of clutter and other distractions when introducing the activity. You may consider more relaxing activities at night or around naptime, such as listening to soothing music.
Pick Activities According To Their Level Of Symptoms
An activity may be suitable for one person with Alzheimer's but not another, as it can depend on their level of cognitive ability. To avoid frustration, choose an activity with easy-to-follow steps. Be patient and allow them to complete the tasks as well as they can and on their own time.
Make Sure The Activity Is Stimulating
An activity may be stimulating for the senses as well as the brain. In addition, if it aligns with their previous interests, they may enjoy it more. For example, if they love cats but can no longer care for one, giving them a stuffed cat to care for may be welcomed. You can also converse with them by telling them what you are doing, such as listing the steps in watering the plants or baking cookies.
Activities To Try As A Caregiver For Individuals With Alzheimer's
Activities can involve cognitive stimulation, sensory play, group engagement, or physical activity. The following activities for patients with dementia may be beneficial to try as a caregiver.
Cognitive activities involve those that stimulate the mind. For example, you could try playing games like dominos, Go Fish, Bingo, Uno, Checkers, and Yahtzee and switch games if needed.
People with Alzheimer's may also enjoy puzzles. However, they may have to be adapted to your client's needs. For example, some may find a jigsaw puzzle difficult, so children's puzzles may be more appropriate. In some cases, your loved one may also want support completing the puzzle.
If puzzles or games are too much, you might consider reading a book to the individual. Stories are mentally stimulating and can be calming before bed.
Sensorial activities involve those that allow individuals with Alzheimer's to reconnect with their bodies, memories, and environments. Below are a few options to try:
- Playing with textures using fabrics (plush, velvet, wool, cotton, silk)
- Touching liquids (such as wading their hand in water)
- Smelling flowers, perfume, incense, foods, and spices like cinnamon
- Looking at colors in a palette
- Pasta threading using ziti, penne, or another big-holed pasta that can be placed inside a string or making jewelry if they have coordination
- Taking them to an aquarium to look at fish
Below are a few physical activities that may be safe and stimulating for individuals with dementia:
- Going for a walk down the street or in the yard
- Dancing or moving around to music
- Following an exercise or dance video for fun without structure
- Playing yard games
- Making pizzas from scratch
Group activities can be any of the above activities in a group or could include the following:
- Playing balloon volleyball
- Trying singalong karaoke
- Completing a group puzzle challenge
- Group therapy
Some people with Alzheimer's may enjoy creative activities. One such activity is a memory box. In the box, they can add items that remind them of memories of pets, family members, vacations, souvenirs, objects tied to their profession, hobbies, sports memorabilia, trophies, and other meaningful moments.
Other creative activities could involve finger painting with large pieces of paper, telling positive jokes, or knitting.
During the holidays, you may engage the individual with Alzheimer's in tasks like creating holiday cards, watching a holiday movie, singing songs, making a pie, decorating a tree, setting up a menorah or another religious object, or listening to music together.
The Alzheimer's Association recommends the following activities for people with dementia:
- Going to the park
- Listening to enjoyable music
- Watching a sport they enjoy on television
- Playing with Play-Doh
- Naming the presidents
- Setting the table, putting dishes away, or washing and drying dishes
- Making a batch of cookies with support
- Watching a movie or sitcom
- Looking at photographs
- Reading a favorite book
- Watering the plants and feeding birds
- Sitting on a bench or swing
- Going to watch dogs play at a dog park
- Playing horseshoe
- Going to the beach
- Sweeping the porch or patio
- Sitting on the porch to drink a beverage
- Coloring a book
- Making a collage or scrapbook
The Alzheimer's Association also recommends a personal activity, such as giving the person a hand massage or manicure, brushing their hair, and taking consensual photos of them.
Mental Health Support Options For Caregivers
Caregivers for adults with dementia may struggle with their mental health. Below are a few strategies for finding support.
Caring for others often requires effort, patience, and a calm mind. Prioritizing someone else's needs might sometimes require you to put your needs on the back burner. While caregiving can be gratifying and meaningful, keeping your well-being in mind can be vital. If you sometimes get overwhelmed and frustrated, you're not alone.
Having healthy outlets to channel and express emotions may help you navigate the process of caregiving. Support groups may be one way to talk about your experiences. Activities like deep breathing and meditation can also reduce stress and restore equilibrium. Mindfulness, for example, has been found to promote well-being and emotional balance.
Support groups can play a role in safeguarding your own wellness and mental health. Many types of support groups are available, including peer support groups, counseling groups, and educational support.
A support group can provide a safe environment to express emotions such as anger, shame, and frustration with others who understand and can have similar experiences. You may also receive helpful advice on caring for others and brainstorm ideas on handling difficult situations. Some caregivers may have more suggestions for activity ideas.
Therapy For Caregivers
If you are caring for someone with Alzheimer's and want support in sustaining your well-being and mental health, it may be helpful to consider therapy—in-person or through another modality. If attending appointments outside the house presents a challenge, online therapy may be an option.
A platform like BetterHelp can help you find a licensed therapist available by video conference, phone call, or in-app messaging. You may contact them outside of sessions, and they can get back to you as soon as possible. This feature may be helpful if you're struggling with emotions after a difficult situation with a loved one with Alzheimer's.
Studies also back up the effectiveness of online therapy. One study found that internet-based interventions were as effective as in-person therapy in treating mental burnout, which can be a common symptom for caregivers who have been overextended in their job duties.
If you're struggling with being a caregiver to someone with Alzheimer's, joining a support group, trying meditation, or talking to a therapist may be instrumental as you navigate the ups and downs of caregiving life. You're not alone, and support is available.
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