If you know or love someone living with dementia, you are not alone. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 50 million people live with this cognitive disease worldwide, with more than 10 million new cases diagnosed each year. Dementia is a world health crisis, but it can feel even more catastrophic when the disease directly impacts your family.
Although most types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, are progressive and currently incurable, there are interventions that work to make moments and days more pleasant for the person living with the disease. One successful intervention is using leisure activities to maintain cognitive skills and keep the person feeling engaged, stimulated, and happy.
Health Benefits of Engagement
Seniors living with dementia face multiple challenges, including increased risk of depression or anxiety, increased risk of falling, and decreased verbal skills, which can limit socialization. However, certain activities, when appropriately planned and facilitated, can lead to a better quality of life and wellness.
People with dementia who participate in activities, whether led by a trained therapist or another person, have higher well-being response scores, as per a study published in Dementia. Even better, participating in activities can increase self-esteem, maintain functionality, and even enhance quality of life, according to a study published in the Journal of Housing for the Elderly.
Each person living with dementia is unique, which means each person will respond differently to certain types of activities. Use your knowledge of the person’s interests and their history to choose an activity that is failure-free and that they will enjoy. Remember, activities are not about the end result, but are about the time spent together.
- Take a walk. The great outdoors, even if it is just the sidewalk around your home, offers sensory stimulation and the opportunity to exercise. Chat as you stroll along, or simply point out when you hear a bird chirp.
- Sort. Excellent for fine motor skills and cognitive recall, sorting is an easy activity that you can throw together with minimal supplies. Sort playing cards by color or suit, sort nuts from bolts in the garage, sort sewing thread by color or size, or even sort dried beans (black from pinto, for example) together.
- Cook together. Cooking is a full sensory experience and nearly anyone can get involved in the kitchen based on their ability. Shuck corn, snap green beans, cream butter with sugar for cookies, or roll out dough. No matter what you do, you will surely have a good experience together.
- Drive around the neighborhood. Sometimes it feels great to get out of the house together, and a drive around a favorite neighborhood offers opportunities for reminiscing about past homes, the best coffee in town, and where you went to school.
- Look through photos. Pull down a photo album from the bookshelf and look at the photos together. Don’t worry if your loved one doesn’t remember who is in each picture; it’s about creating a story about the image.
- Read the newspaper. Choose an article or section based on what your loved one likes. Perhaps it is world news, or perhaps it is the Dear Abby advice section.
- Sing. Music is held in a part of the brain that dementia is slow to reach. Take advantage of this by listening to music and singing regularly together. Aim for songs that your loved one listened to when they were between 10 and 30 years old, including favorite lullabies they would have sung to their children.
Engagement in Memory Care Communities
Seniors living with dementia can benefit from regular activity stimulation throughout the day. However, not every family can offer this type of environment for their loved one at home, and that’s OK. Fortunately, memory care communities offer services to residents that give them regular access to programming designed to accentuate their strengths and keep them feeling their best.
At The Arbor Company, we take dementia care seriously. Our team members who serve residents in our memory care communities are specially trained in dementia-specific interventions, including engaging activities. We design our activity calendars to be the heart of our home, not just a way to keep our residents busy. Instead, our activities are created with each resident in mind, highlighting their strengths and building on their past history.