No one wants to hear that their loved one has received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Although the diagnosis may seem grim at first, it’s important to know that there are plenty of ways families and caregivers can engage with those with memory loss that can improve their quality of life.
But just what activities are appropriate for those with dementia?
There are plenty of ways to engage older adults with varying stages of dementia. What method or activity works best will depend on factors like the severity of the condition, how accessible these activities are, the older adult’s personality, and if the person can perform these meaningful activities safely.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; many everyday games and activities that you perform together with your loved one can help improve their quality of life.
Activities that you can do anywhere, including at home or in the hospital, include:
These stimulating activities can provide a fun way to engage with their environment and bond with the people around them.
If your loved one is in the early stages of dementia, they may still be able to live at home alone or with another family member. In these cases, having them perform household chores like folding laundry can be appropriate. While chores aren’t exactly fun, performing them—either solo or with assistance—will give your loved one a sense of accomplishment, and will encourage them to be as independent as they can for as long as is safely possible.
Modified exercise can be a great activity for any senior, including those with mild dementia, some research suggests. What that activity is depends on the individual; it should be something that is both safe for the person with dementia to perform while supervised and something that they enjoy, such as walking.
Some studies suggest that Tai Chi might provide cognitive or physical benefits for those living with mild dementia or are at risk for the condition. However, further research is needed to confirm these results.
Sensory stimulation refers to activities or therapies that engage patients’ senses in order to promote positive feelings.
Research suggests that mental and sensory stimulation therapies might provide benefits, such as improved communication, to dementia patients living in long-term care facilities. These activities and therapies do not have to be complicated. In fact, even easy-to-implement activities may even be able to help, such as aromatherapy or creating family photo albums.
Other studies suggest that certain types of massages, such as hand massages, may reduce agitation for hospitalized dementia patients.
Even something as simple as playing with playdough or clay might improve the well-being of older adults living with this condition by giving them something to do with their hands.
Music therapy is a broad term and might include:
The goal of music therapy is to use music in some fashion to produce positive feelings and effects for patients.
Some research suggests that music therapy can be an effective part of treatment for people with dementia, although more research is needed to confirm these results and standardize protocols for implementing music therapy for these patients. In other words, while music therapy might provide benefits to people with memory loss, the extent of these benefits and how best to implement this therapy is not yet 100% known.
Reminiscence therapy, or life review therapy, is a type of therapy that allows people with memory loss to revisit their memories and reminiscence about the past. Like validation therapy, the point of this therapy is to work with patients with severe memory loss and meet them where they are at mentally, rather than challenge their own views of reality.
Evidence supporting the effectiveness of reminiscence therapy for patients with conditions like dementia is mixed. That said, many studies do show some small improvement in quality of life for dementia patients receiving reminiscence therapy.
What reminiscence therapy looks like varies widely, although some senior living communities implement the ideas of this therapy in the form of memory boxes. The concept behind these boxes is that people with memory loss can engage with happy memories and they allow caregiving staff to learn more about their residents.
Otherwise known as animal-assisted therapy (AAT), pet therapy is therapy that involves the use of non-human animals. The goal is to provide tangible benefits to patients, such as improved mood. Animal-assisted activities are activities that include the use of animals. Like AAT, the goal is typically to provide some benefit to human participants.
What counts as AAT varies widely. That said, common forms of animal-assisted activities include:
Current research suggests that AAT may provide benefits to dementia patients and improve symptoms related to the condition, such as agitation and aggression. Additionally, one small study found that having an aquarium improved appetite and food intake among people with this condition. More high-quality research is needed, however, to determine the extent of AAT’s benefits and whether visiting animals or live-in pets provide more benefits to patients.
When choosing dementia activities, keep in mind that they should be fun activities that encourage social interaction, self-expression, and sensory stimulation, all of which can leave the individual with a sense of accomplishment when the activity is complete.
You also want to make sure that these activities are safe and supervised. That can mean, for example, always accompanying your loved one on a walk, and ensuring that the walking path is flat, without obstacles that may increase the odds of tripping and falling.
Keep in mind that as memory loss and cognitive decline progresses, you may have to switch activities or find new ways to engage your loved ones in a healthy, appropriate manner.
Best practice for choosing appropriate activities for Alzheimer’s patients, however, is to consult with a licensed professional, such as their physician, a nurse practitioner, a geriatric care manager, or a certified dementia practitioner. These experts will have much more knowledge and insight about what activities will be appropriate and safe.
Disclaimers: This article does not constitute professional, legal, or medical advice.