As a caregiver for a person living with dementia, you are well aware that “the only constant is change.” At Fit Minds, we believe dementia changes relationships, it doesn’t end them. While navigating these changes, there are specific strategies and approaches tailored for caregiving. These techniques, known as best practices, will help you to bring out the best in the person you care for while preserving the strength of your relationship, whether you are caring for someone living at home or in a senior living community.
Whenever adapting activities to those in your care, it is crucial that you surround them with positive feedback and reinforce their efforts. Even as an adult it can be difficult to try new things. The fear of embarrassment or unwanted attention can be worrisome, especially when moving into a senior living community. Ultimately, increasing activities and even introducing a new environment can have very positive results, despite the challenges of making the transition.
Caregivers know that active, engaged seniors enjoy a better quality of life, and you can help in many ways!
Create a Daily Schedule
It is important to think about their daily schedule and ensure it is filled with enough activities to occupy and stimulate their minds and exercise their bodies. Ideally, they should be pleasantly tired at the end of the day after doing as much as possible themselves. Staying active will help them sleep better, and encouraging independence is important for their self-esteem.
The daily routine has numerous benefits, most importantly in reducing anxiety. Support them in creating and following their schedule. At home, this may look like writing out daily activities and posting where it will be visible and easy to access. Residents in a senior living community receive activity calendars. We recommend reviewing the calendar with your loved one to identify activities they may like. Follow up with them later and ask them how the activity went. Your support and interest will encourage them to participate!
Focus on Previous Interests
Begin by focusing on their previous interests and hobbies before their dementia diagnosis. It is a good idea to encourage them to continue while modifying and adjusting these activities to match their skills. They will need more support and assistance to participate in these activities or may need to find new ways to connect to their interests.
For example, one man we worked with loved carving wood. However, after his dementia diagnosis, he stopped the activity altogether, and he no longer had the ability to carve without assistance. His family had expected him to continue his hobbies using his initiative, but he couldn’t. And so he sat in his chair, slowly losing interest in everything around him.
Once he started cognitive coaching and regained self-confidence, he began participating in activities with his family. While he didn’t go back to wood carving alone, he could talk about things he enjoyed, and together they found other activities he enjoyed.
Focus on Activities You Can Do Together
Whether spending time together at home or during a visit, you can still do things that will have an impact. Doing activities together can make a big difference to their quality of life. Some examples of possible activities are:
- Singing and listening to music
- Reading the newspaper to them and commenting on the stories
- Puzzles that are not too complicated but are not childish
- Cook or bake a simple recipe
- Garden or visit a garden
- Household cleaning, like sorting socks or emptying the dishwasher, can be helpful tasks that they can do under a watchful eye
- Arts and crafts such as knitting or painting
- Organize the house together, setting the dinner table, giving them one task at a time
- Exercise, such as walking, yoga, tai-chi
- Sudoku, crossword puzzles, word searches
- Read them a book or listen to an audiobook together
You can find even more activities to do here.
The key is to create human interaction through the activity. When you discuss an article from the newspaper with them, you are helping them connect to the world. This gives them a sense of their continuing worth as a human being.
Look for New Interests to Engage 5 Key Areas of the Mind
When most people think of activities to stay intellectually challenged, sudoku, crosswords, and word searches are usually top of mind. These activities are great choices for maintaining computation and language skills as long as they don’t cause confusion or frustration. If you find that they no longer seem to enjoy their daily crossword or struggle to find answers, it may be time to look for other activities that will keep them mentally stimulated.
It’s important to look for exercises in cognitive stimulation that engage all five key mind areas. The five key areas are language, visual/spatial, memory, critical thinking, and computation. By engaging in various exercises that work these five key areas, you will help them maintain their skills.
Why are these areas important? Let’s consider visual/spatial activities such as sorting items, putting a puzzle together, or giving directions when looking at a destination on a map. Participating in exercises that engage this area of the brain helps them maintain the ability to see things in time and space and recognize faces and places.
What does success look like? It may not be what you think. Success when engaging in cognitive activities is simply coming up with an answer. Whether that answer is correct or incorrect doesn’t matter. The exercise comes from the work they put in to draw a conclusion.
Focus On The Process Over the Result
Focus on the process, not the result of the activity. The important thing is engagement. The more engaged they are with you or another caregiver, the happier they will be. You do not need to be the one who does everything. You may arrange for a friend, a paid caregiver, or a cognitive coach to come in and do certain things with your loved one. One daughter arranged for a caregiver to come in and spend time with her dad playing pool. He spent his days in a memory unit, but on the weekends, he would go downstairs to the game room to play pool, a game he still enjoyed and was good at.
You can also plan to take them to community events or social activities, but remember that noise can overwhelm them. Pay attention to their face. Are they still focused, or is their attention drifting? Once they have stopped paying attention, it is probably time to change activities.
Creating a full daily schedule will help reduce anxiety and boredom. Anxiety and boredom are at the root of many challenging behaviors. If you can fill their days with engaging activities, they will sleep better and have improved self-confidence and quality of life.
Contact us here to learn more about cognitive stimulation, our one-on-one Personal Trainer for the Mind™ coaching, or our activity kits.