The Alzheimer’s Association reports that more than 5.7 million Americans are living with the disease each year. While this number is staggering—and it is only expected to increase over time—the statistic does not include seniors living with other types of dementia.
While dementia is not curable, progress can be slowed by medications. Caregivers, both professional and family, can also increase quality of life by providing failure-free activities that encourage connection and cognitive stimulation that is calming, not frustrating.
If you are struggling to connect with your loved one who has dementia, you are not alone. Most family members find it difficult to share typical routines or conversations with their loved ones once dementia sets in. However, with a bit of planning and flexibility, as well as the desire to be in the moment with your loved one, you can have a meaningful connection as you share a moment together. Here are a few ideas to get you started as you plan for your next visit:
One of the best ways to connect with a loved one living with dementia is to encourage reminiscing. Simply put, this is remembering and talking about the past. Because dementia patients tend to keep long-term memories intact for longer than more recent memories, focus on asking open-ended questions about their childhood or early adulthood. Steer clear of questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Try questions like, “How did you wean your babies?” for women who loved being moms, or prompts like, “Tell me about the car you drove in high school.” Once you begin the conversation, let the person with dementia respond. Your conversation may shift to different topics, and that’s okay! Enjoy listening and learning something new.
2. Household Tasks
Repetitive, failure-free tasks can be calming for people living with dementia. Do chores or tasks together that they have always done, adapting the tasks as necessary for mobility challenges. These chores are great ways to begin conversation and increase fine motor skills while focusing on long-term memory. Try folding towels or matching socks from the laundry, snapping green beans in the kitchen, or sweeping out the garage. Remember, the end result is not important—the magic happens through the process.
3. Sensory Work
Using more than one sense during an interaction has led to good results for those living with dementia. A quick and easy way to incorporate sensory work is to use scented lotion for hand or foot massage. Your loved one benefits from the touch and the smell; you will likely notice a sense of peace arrive quickly.
4. Walking or Easy Exercise
Use physical activity to burn restless energy that can sometimes arrive during late afternoon hours for those living with dementia. While visiting, take a walk together. Point out flowers or other items of interest on your journey together. If walking isn’t an option, try participating in an easy exercise class together. If your loved one resides at a senior care community, their activity calendar is full of exercise offerings for all abilities. Take advantage of it and participate together!
5. Coloring or Painting
Tap into some creativity and work on fine motor skills by coloring or painting together. Use colored pencils or water colors, along with blank pages of paper or outlined pages from an adult coloring book. Turn on soft music, and work together or side by side. Keep your session to less than 15 minutes, because people living with dementia often have a reduced attention span.
When you visit your loved one living with dementia, be prepared with a few activities to enjoy together. Also be prepared to be flexible based on how they are feeling that day. If your loved one lives in a senior care community that offers memory care services, you are in luck. You can take advantage of the programs planned for residents by participating in events together. You can also tap into the knowledge of specially trained professionals by asking them how to better connect with your loved one in their stage of the disease. Caregivers and nursing staff are more than willing to share their experiences and knowledge with you, increasing the likelihood of you having a lovely visit.
Are you curious to learn more about dementia, as well as how to make your loved one’s experience as pleasant as possible? Download our dementia guide for an overview, as well as realistic ways you can apply your knowledge to enjoy happy visits and a healthy senior.