It's common for someone in the early stages of dementia to withdraw from doing the activities they once enjoyed, but it's vital to keep them engaged. An Alzheimer's or dementia diagnosis doesn't mean your loved one has to stop living a meaningful life. Although dementia is a progressive terminal illness, engaging activities can significantly improve their quality of life.
According to Alzheimer's and dementia care expert Teepa Snow, there are four categories of activities that fill our lives: work, self-care, leisure, and rest. When these activities are balanced, we are more balanced and, in turn, feel more in control, can better manage stress, and have a positive sense of self. It's vital to maintain this balance, even if dementia is a factor.
Despite the side effects dementia brings with it, there is still a person there who wants to contribute, participate, and succeed. These activities, no matter how small, will have a positive impact on your loved one and improve their overall sense of happiness.
Work activities are the type of activities adults tend to value most. They are often job-related tasks that demonstrate skill, competence, and value that also make us feel appreciated for our abilities. A dementia diagnosis does not eliminate a person's need to viewed as a productive, contributing member of the community. Your loved one may not be able to perform such activities to perfection, but it will give them a greater sense of belonging.
For example, raking leaves on the front lawn is a productive use of your loved one’s time, and it’s also a repetitive task that is easy to complete. Being outside is stimulating, too. Even something as simple as picking up around the house will give your loved one responsibility, and they’ll take pride in their contribution.
Self-care activities are those that we do to take care of ourselves and our surroundings; those that are required for us to function. As children, we learn to bathe and groom ourselves, feed ourselves, dress ourselves, and use the bathroom. As we grow older, we learn how to cook for ourselves, care for our homes, and manage our finances. The inability to perform self-care tasks is an early sign of dementia, but encouraging your loved one to do these tasks allows them to maintain dignity and independence.
Daily tasks like getting dressed are made meaningful, as buttoning a shirt or zipping up a jacket require and help maintain motor skills. Having a day-to-day routine, even if your loved one can’t complete the tasks on their own, will make them feel more independent.
Leisure activities are the fun activities we do in our free time simply because we like doing them. Visit with friends and family, take turns reading the newspaper or a book out loud, play games or cards, or do puzzles. Participate in a yoga or tai chi class at your local community center. Go for walks around the neighborhood or visit a nearby wildlife reserve and take a walk on a scenic nature trail.
Listen to music, watch movies, and look through photo albums together. Activities that require working with your hands are especially stimulating for those with dementia. Do arts and crafts, bake or cook together, garden, or play sorting games.
It's important to note that your loved one, depending on their age and generation, may not view leisure activities as a necessary part of day-to-day life. In that case, you may want to try doing more work-minded activities that are still fun and fulfilling, but offer a more productive use of time, such as raking leaves, caring for a pet, or doing work around the house.
Rest activities are activities that allow us to recharge, find our inner peace, and relax. Of course, sleeping comes to mind, but that's not the only way to feel more rested and reenergized. Since it's common for those with dementia to experience interruptions in their sleep patterns, doing restful activities can help supplement that need for rest and help improve their ability to function in other areas. Prayer, listening to music, cuddling with a pet, taking a quiet walk, sitting in a rocking chair, or watching birds or fish are all low-stress, relaxing things to do.
Modification is Key
For these activities to be useful, they need to be modified to suit your loved one's hobbies and interests, work history, daily routines, and social habits. You need to have an understanding of their level of cognitive decline and the skills they have. For instance, they may need more one-on-one assistance for things like hands-on craft projects or getting dressed in the morning.
Consider the time of day. If they usually have more energy in the morning, use that time to take a walk or exercise class. If they are more focused during the afternoon, do puzzles later in the day.
It's less about occupying your loved one with busy work and more about giving your loved one meaningful activities to do. Creating as much meaning as possible is the best thing to do to help a loved one cope with an illness like dementia while maintaining quality of life.
A dementia or Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis impacts the whole family, but you aren’t alone. At Bluebird Homecare, we know how overwhelming this phase of life can be, which is why we can offer a team of specially-trained and certified staff dedicated to helping those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.