When someone ages, there is a chance that they may begin to feel lonely. Being lonely or bored for majority of the day can lead to mental health problems, lack of confidence and has also been connected to an increased risk of physical ill health. An older person may take it upon themselves to try and keep occupied. They may make plans with friends, visit family or join a new class/activity group. This makes us think what happens to ageing people who have dementia and are not capable of keeping their own diaries busy with exciting activities for someone with dementia.
Some people may also ask whose responsibility is it to keep them busy? Often the answer is that it is the responsibility of a family member or close friend to help them engage in activities or hobbies that give them pleasure. This may add additional stress to an already busy household as you may feel like there is no time in between working and daily home life but sometimes a few hours a week can make a world of a difference. Leaving the burden on one person can be extremely stressful for them, you could consider making a rota where each family member takes responsibility of one day a week that they visit or attend an activity with their family member with dementia. If finances allow it, you could also recruit a carer for a few hours a week.
Keeping them engaged and doing some exciting activities for someone with dementia can have a positive influence on them and you may notice that they are not just engaged in that moment but may become more engaged with life in general. It is also possible that this type of stimulation can help lessen some of the negative behavioural traits that we sometimes see in people with dementia including anxiety, agitation or sadness. Engaging activities can be used as a way of encouraging our loved one to express themselves a bit more. It can also bring back some fond memories which can create (or strengthen) emotional connections between you (or any another family member/carer) and them.
It can be quite confusing when thinking about what activities are best but it all depends on how well you know the individual and whether you will be joining in these activities or not. It is important to make sure that you choose activities that are meaningful and not ones that will just fill time. To make it meaningful, you must consider their interests. There are two very important things to keep in mind:
1. Their capabilities
o Having dementia affects memory and sequencing of actions so you must think about how their progression of dementia has affected their skills. For example, if they used to enjoy knitting, think about whether they can still do this or not. If they have a fond memory of knitting and they are happy when they see the tools and materials, that is great but if they cannot remember how to do it they can get quite overwhelmed and flustered. You also run this risk of tainting a good memory.
o When considering capabilities and then deciding the task, this will give you a good indication of whether you need to join in or not. If the activity is quite difficult and requires some support, to reduce the chances of any negative outcomes (such as frustration) you should be present.
2. Is it safe?
o If there is an activity that you think is meaningful and your loved one is capable of doing it, you will need to decide if it needs to be modified to become safer or more practical.
Below I am going to list some activities or tasks that someone with dementia may find exciting. Some of these activities can be done alone and others will require supervision. Please note that you may consider some of these activities redundant if your loved one is still high functioning but those can be ignored or tailored.
• Creating a memory box – this can help them reconnect with their past and bring back some good memories.
• Purchase a personalised jigsaw puzzle – you can use a picture that they are most familiar with e.g. a family picture they have had in their house for quite some time.
o If a standard puzzle with a lot of pieces is too complex you can make your own by laminating the picture and cutting it up yourself.
• Collect a bunch of newspapers and magazines, go through them together and tell them to cut out the things that catch their eye or interests them, for example there may be a celebrity they like. You can skip on the newspapers and use magazines only if you think they are too wordy. You can go one step further and put it in a scrapbook to try and use as a conversation piece later.
• Playing simple card games – they could be capable enough to play blackjack or they may just enjoy shuffling cards or grouping them. It is always best to use cards that are larger than usual.
• Children’s toys – when children are developing, we often give them a series of tasks to help them learn and this process is usually aided with a toy. For example, when you are trying to help a child learn about colours you may give them a simple puzzle cube or even pattern blocks and boards. Using children’s toys are good for people with dementia because they seem less intimidating and naturally are easier.
• Colouring books – you can purchase these at varying levels of difficulty. Encouraging your loved ones to stay in the lines is a helpful way to get them to concentrate and feel like they have achieved something when they have finished. On the other hand, if they are not able to keep in the lines they should still be encouraged for their good work. Discouraging them can make them feel overwhelmed and increases the likelihood that they will get distracted.
• Drawing pictures based of their own imagination or cues – this is a good task because art is subjective, and it may be true when they say you cannot get it wrong. Giving cues that bring back memories can create meaningful and engaging conversations.
• Exercise – this can include gardening, dancing, seated exercises, swimming or even walking. Keep in mind that safety comes first so make sure there is supervision if necessary.
• Other activities include: untying knots, folding laundry, listening and singing along to familiar music, cleaning around the house, re-organising cupboards, watch family videos and baking (with supervision).
• Finally, Memory Café’s or support groups. I discussed this in more detail on a previous blog, but café’s in particular can help them meet other people with dementia (and can help you meet other carer’s). There are also walking groups, classes etc. Here is a link to find what is near you.
There are a ton more exciting activities for someone with dementia that are available on the internet but these are some of the ones I think are exciting and would help keep your loved one engaged. Remember that the internet can be your best friend so if none of them work or do not seem practical… keep searching!