Activities For People With Dementia

Are Activities Important For People With Dementia?

photo-blog-dementia-activities-conferenceScheduling routine activities can provide meaningful tasks for people who have dementia.  Activities should be categorized as those that focus on work related tasks that people engaged in prior to dementia.  These activities can be either job related, leisure, socialization, or home maintenance activities. 

These tasks used to provide a meaning and purpose to the person’s life and fostered a sense of self-worth. 
They also provided inner happiness and a healthy balance between job related and stress relieving activities.

What are job related activities?

Examples of job related activities should focus on previous tasks that a person performed.  Business men and women often sat at a desk and used an adding machine, pen and paper, typewriter, or computer.  People who were in the construction or trades used tools and building materials.  Women who were full time homemakers cared for the children, prepared meals, and household chores.

If you are caring for a loved one with dementia at home you can set up safe areas that will provide meaningful activity throughout the day.  For example, give them mail to open, sort, and encourage them to respond by typing a letter, etc.  I once worked on a dementia care unit and one of the women who had been a business woman and supervised many people, used to sit across from my desk.  I provided her with her own in/out baskets, paper, pencils, folders, etc.  She would either stand or sit at the desk and write, sort, file or fold paper.  This activity occurred for short durations, but she came to the desk multiple times throughout the day to attend to her paperwork.

Men and women spend a great deal of time in their kitchen unpacking groceries, preparing food or eating
.  There are safe activities that your loved one can assist with in preparing food.  For example,  washing vegetables, tearing lettuce, assisting with some tasks in setting the table.  Preparing food stimulates the senses and can trigger positive emotions as meal times were often a positive time for families.

What are safe leisure activities?

Leisure time activities such as taking a daily walk, or spending time working in the back yard can be very stimulating.  Back yard activities such as planting, weeding, or harvesting vegetables or fruit, can lead the person to feeling they are productive, and of benefit to others.  Raking leaves or grass, and sweeping are also safe activities.  Ideally these activities can be broken into tasks of shorter duration.  The activities should be enjoyable and a means to reduce photo-blog-dementia-activities-senior-computerstress.

Indoor leisure activities could be watching movies.  It is recommended that the caregiver choose movies the person has talked about in the past, or movies with simple, straight-forward plots.  Refrain from movies with violent or frightening themes.  Writing, reading, drawing, painting, or sorting activities are also examples of indoor leisure activities.  Simple board or card games, large piece simple puzzles that are appropriate for the person’s cognitive abilities can provide meaningful indoor activity.   

Are there games or tools specifically for those with cognitive impairment?

At a recent Conference I attended I had the opportunity to review manipulative activity tools created for the cognitively impaired.  I was especially impressed with a touchscreen interactive monitor that included a game focusing on matching pairs, free hand coloring, etc.  Another tool I liked was a match the color board which could be attached to the wall and the large knobs could easily be manipulated by the elderly with dementia.

I have learned through experience that people with dementia can learn how to perform simple tasks on an IPad. It may be simply a task that involves reading a book. The IPad allows the person to turn pages or enlarge script by simply swiping their hand across the screen.  Many simple games can be downloaded to provide mental stimulation.

Can listening to Music benefit those with dementia?

Music is often a big part of people’s life.  People listen to music when driving in their car and over their lifetime purchased many of their favorite songs.  There are many people who either sang in a choir or just around the house, or played a musical instrument.  Through personal experience with a family member, and clients who have dementia, I have witnessed that they become more energized and animated when listening to music or singing.  People in the final stages of Alzheimer’s are unable to communicate in a meaningful way, but when I start singing a song, they immediately join in and will continue to sing, even when I have stopped.  I have found music to be a pleasant distraction for the client when attending to personal care tasks, especially when there is a history of behavior resistance to personal care tasks.

There is an ongoing study on the impact of music and memory programs currently being conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
    “Researchers are monitoring the responses of 1,500 Alzheimer’s and dementia patients who were given iPods at Wisconsin nursing homes through the program, which was highlighted in a documentary honored at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Their mental state will then be compared to the same number of people in 100 other nursing homes who haven’t received iPods.

Should there be daily physical exercise?

Yes there are many studies that support the benefits of daily physical exercise.  An exercise program can be developed that takes into consideration the functional limitations of the person.  For example, if the person is unable to walk safely, then sitting in a chair with a bike pedal apparatus and pedaling for 10 minutes or longer, provides physical exertion, and strengthens muscles.

Many public gyms offer exercise classes appropriate to people with dementia.  Daily walks even with an assistive device will facilitate in maintaining and promoting improved muscle tone, strength and balance. 

Can a home health agency assist with daily activities?

At AA Care Services, the Care Manager Nurse will assist in developing a daily activity program for the client with dementia or Alzheimer’s.  The Caregiver will be trained on the daily program to facilitate a daily routine of job related, leisure and exercise activities.

Want to find out more?

ABC News
Wisconsin Studies Music and Memory Program

Canadian Association on Gerontology
43rd Annual Scientific And Educational Meeting
Landscapes of Aging: Critical Issues, Emerging Possibilities
October 16-18 Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.

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