Pastimes, Hobbies & Dementia: Keeping Your Loved One Engaged and Happy

It’s common for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias to experience depression, anxiety and other symptoms that can cause them to avoid family and friends or withdraw from activities they once greatly enjoyed for fear of embarrassment or failure. But maintaining connections, interests and hobbies is essential to coping with the disease and improving quality of life – and it may even slow dementia’s progression. That’s why some of the best gifts you can give someone with memory loss is your attention, time, patience and love. It’s important for family and friends to help their loved one cope with the diagnosis, involve them in their lives and modify activities for safety or practicality so they can benefit from meaningful engagement. In this post, we’ll discuss the benefits of meaningful interaction, how to plan successful activities, and some recommended activities that can relieve symptoms of dementia and improve quality of life.

What Makes an Activity Meaningful? And Why Is It Important?

“A meaningful activity is one that piques your loved one’s interest, engages their strengths, preserves dignity, encourages positive self-esteem, and nurtures their physical, mental and social well-being,” says Danielle Buck, Director of Community Relations at YourLife™ of Stuart, a Memory Care community in Stuart, Florida. When even a few of these criteria are met, your loved one will feel a greater connection to the world around them.

This will help to:

• Create more joyful moments and days

• Exercise cognitive and physical skills needed to maintain independence

• Encourage and facilitate self-expression

• Lessen anxiety, frustration, stress and symptoms of depression

• Redirect focus to reduce challenging behaviors such as wandering or repeating questions

• Increase feelings of self-worth

• Promote a sense of belonging, enhance social interaction and connections

• Spark memories or fond feelings associated with the past

How Do I Make Activities Meaningful for My Loved One with Memory Loss?

If your loved one doesn’t know what they want to do, or can’t express it, make a list of what you know about them: their likes and dislikes, current stage of memory loss, current physical and cognitive abilities, and what’s inspired them in the past. This will help you adapt activities to make them accessible and enjoyable. You also may need to try a few approaches to find the line between too simple and too challenging. You want your loved one to feel good about accomplishing a task successfully, but if it’s too simple, it won’t be as beneficial and may seem patronizing. AARP’s recommendations include:

Play to skills. Can they follow written commands? Play an instrument? Sort objects by size or color?

Visit past interests. Adapt previous hobbies to fit current skills. If the person enjoyed puzzles, choose one with a manageable number of large pieces and do it together.

Set up your loved one to succeed. If your loved one is interested, happy and safe, it's okay if they’re not following the activity’s “rules.” Don’t insist they fold the laundry a certain way, or point out that the horse they painted has five legs. The sole goal of the activity is to engage the person and encourage a sense of accomplishment, purpose, enjoyment and self-confidence.

Keep activities simple. Too many steps, decisions or the aforementioned rules may frustrate people with memory loss or make them feel like they’re disappointing you if they don’t catch on quickly enough.

Give gentle verbal and visual instruction. Be patient, kind and encouraging.

Use properly sized game pieces and tools. Avoid easy-to-swallow objects and buy comfortable, ergonomic paintbrushes or oversized playing cards that are easy to hold and see.

Create a safe, welcoming space. Work with unbreakable materials and keep the environment comfortable, uncluttered and well lit.

Be flexible. If your loved one isn't enjoying an activity, let it go and try something else.

What Are Some Activities I Can Do with My Loved One?

Sharing activities is mutually beneficial. It allows you to enjoy special moments with your loved one, relieve some of your own stress and make the tough job of caregiving more rewarding. Just remember to play to your loved one’s skills and interests, and know that those can change at any time as dementia progresses. Depending on the severity of their disease, what worked a year or even a month ago might not work now.

Bake or cook simple recipes. Cooking is a great interactive activity. And, having a role in food preparation encourages your loved one with dementia to eat better.

• Do a craft, try a paint-by-numbers kit, or sculpt with clay or Play-Doh.

Read the newspaper together. Discussing stories or issues that interest your loved one can strengthen their connection to the world and others.

Play games. Trivia, crossword puzzles, word searches, Sudoku and checkers are a few ideas.

Play music or sing songs. The power of music to relieve Alzheimer’s symptoms is well documented. Music can still resonate with people in all stages of dementia, even when physical and cognitive abilities deteriorate and communication skills are lost.

Tend the garden.

Make exercise fun. Take a walk in a park, go for a swim at the Y, or join a yoga or tai chi class at the local senior center.

Ask for their help. Let them sweep the floor, wipe the table, fold towels or other simple household tasks. Don’t point out if they miss a spot; the point is to help the person feel useful and a sense of accomplishment.

How Can Family Members Stay Connected?

Family members – especially children – might not understand, or even be frightened by, the changes in your loved one. Some may choose to avoid spending time with your loved one because they are worried about what to say or do, or because they are grieving the loss of the person – and their relationship – that was. Perhaps the best way to reassure them that their mom or grandma is still capable of receiving and, most importantly, feeling their love is to encourage one-on-one or small-group time that allows your family members to see what your loved one is capable of and to get to know the person they are now. Many families find reminiscence therapies helpful, such as:

Watching family videos. Pull out old movies or make a new one where family members discuss their fondest memories of your loved one.

Going through photo albums. Old pictures can spark pleasant memories and stories.

Watching a favorite movie or TV show from their past.

Talking about fond moments in their past. Adult children can talk about family traditions or favorite summer vacations they took as a young family. Because older memories are often the last to fade, this could also be a good time to record your parent’s stories about their youth, jobs or travels and other experiences. You may be able to learn what their own parents or grandparents were like.

Share the stories. Keep a book of the memories your loved one has related and read them aloud with your loved one and other family members. Kids and teens can have their own special moments with their grandparent. They can try:

Playing a game

Singing songs

Finger painting or creating sponge art

Reading a favorite story

Assisting during mealtimes

Painting their loved one’s nails

Playing a video game such as Wii Bowling

Feeding or playing with friendly pets

“Don’t be discouraged if your loved one doesn’t respond to the first few things you try,” says Danielle Buck of YourLife™ of Stuart. “They may no longer enjoy the activities they used to, and that’s okay. Just be patient and try more strategies until you find the ones that make them happy at the moment.

” For more tips on how to add joyful, meaningful moments to your loved one’s days, contact the team at YourLife™ of Stuart at 772-212-2448. We’ll be happy to help as well as invite you to join us for one of our upcoming events!

Designed for You. Defined by You.

YourLife™ of Stuart was created with one purpose – to provide the most exceptional Memory Care and uplifting lifestyle for our residents. As Memory Care specialists, we focus all our energy, attention and resources on creating a community that caters to each resident’s personal needs, respects their choices and honors individuality, while providing unequaled peace of mind and support for families. Because Memory Care is our sole focus, we have the unique ability to design and personally tailor plans around our residents. We see each resident as an individual, understanding that everyone has their own story, specific needs and retained abilities. With that information, we develop personally inspired care plans that value and support each person’s independence. Our team of attentive, caring YourLife™ Personal Care Specialists is on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide assistance with everyday activities, gentle reminders and redirection. Through our signature programming, YourStory, we create an individual experience centered around each resident. From cultural, educational and health and wellness programming, scheduled outings and other special events to personal care, assistance and multiple therapies, we create days with meaning.

At YourLife™ of Stuart, our residents and families know that this is a community designed for you, with a lifestyle defined by you. Contact us to learn more! Call us at 772-212-2448 for more information or to schedule a personal visit today.