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Finding Activities for Your Loved One With Dementia

By Jaime Cobb

How can we engage people living with dementia in a meaningful and successful way? Getting them involved and engaged is more than just providing leisure time or even keeping them occupied; we should choose activities that provide purpose and improve their overall well-being. But to achieve this, we need to learn and focus on what abilities our loved ones still have. Although dementia changes many things for a person, it doesn’t change everything, and often there is still much ability they can use in an enjoyable way.

After identifying and gauging the abilities of your loved one, which may fluctuate from day-to-day, try customizing activities to those abilities that also stimulate their interests. For example, a wife, mother and homemaker of 50 years in the middle stages of dementia may not be able to plan, prepare and execute a family meal like she once could, but she can make decisions on what to serve, combine premeasured ingredients, stir a sauce and set the table. Matching your loved one’s abilities to an activity of interest helps them to be successful and feel more independent.

Tips for Success

The following steps will help you provide a positive experience and enjoyable activities for your loved one throughout the different stages of dementia:

  • Setting up the Activity – Prepare the environment for them to be successful. The physical ability to do an activity is not what is missing; it’s the memory of how to do it. So be ready to jump in and offer help or more direction when needed.
  • Use Visual Cues – Visual cues are easiest for them to process. If they can see it done, they can usually do it.
  • Draw From Their Past and Personal Interests – Activities relating to former life experiences and fond memories provide your loved one with a sense of purpose.
  • Go With the Flow – Plan on brief and simplified activities. Patience, flexibility and the ability to make adjustments are key.
  • Relaxation at the Forefront  Recharging our batteries is important, but relaxing is not just about napping; it’s about spiritual wellness and reducing stress/anxiety – activities such as going for a walk, being in nature or meditating.
  • Customize Your Approach – Every person is unique, and you will have to tailor your approach to your loved one based on their dementia stage. What worked this morning may not work this evening.

Stimulating Activity Suggestions

Need help getting started? Here are some great ways to engage your loved one living with dementia:

  • Pets – People love pets! Taking care of a pet and petting, watching or playing with animals are all therapeutic ways to engage a person living with dementia.
  • Reminiscing – Talking about and looking at familiar props, memories, past activities and events brings peace and value to a person’s life.
  • Socializing – Being a part of the community helps them feel a sense of belonging. Support activities such as going out to lunch, seeing friends and family, participating in a day program like the West Center Day Program and conversing with others in general. 
  • Intergenerational Activities – Whether it’s playing with or watching children, people can find lots of enjoyment and value from intergenerational activities (e.g., volunteering to read at the elementary school or library).
  • Art – Art is another way we can express ourselves, and those living dementia may be more successful at communicating through art. Art activities can include modeling clay, coloring, observing art, painting with watercolors and more.
  • Music – Music is an extremely powerful tool and one of the best ways to connect with those living with dementia. Music can be used to energize, reminisce or create a restful or relaxing environment for your loved one.

James L. West has experienced many positive effects of stimulating activities for people living with dementia within our community. Need to see it to believe it? You can watch the miraculous effects of music, one of the most transformative and powerful activities listed above, in the documentary “Alive Inside.”

The documentary “Alive Inside” explores music’s ability to reawaken souls, revitalize spirits and resurface long-lost memories. There will be a showing of the director’s cut,  during the Lone Star Film Festival, on Sunday, Nov. 17 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Please join the conversation at this free event with a director’s Q&A, live jazz music from the Jim Milan’s Bucket List Jazz Band and more insights.

Reserve your seat (seating is limited) or get more information by contacting us at 817-877-1199.