By Sandy Morris
Many Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers feel guilty when making arrangements for a loved one to attend a daycare program or move to a memory care community. It is understandable that they would want to keep their family member in their home, but an important advantage of both of these settings is that they provide life enrichment programs specifically tailored to the needs of people with these diseases. Many of the elements of these programs can also be provided in a home setting, but it can require a lot of dedicated effort.
Gone are the days when treatments for dementia sufferers focused solely on their physical needs. These patients were basically warehoused away to wait for the end of their lives. However, we now know that people with various neurodegereative diseases can benefit from regular exercise, social interaction, creative expression, learning opportunities and spirituality programs.
Reputable care providers and facilities focus on all of these aspects in order to provide patients with the greatest quality of life for as long as possible.
Exercise for mind and body
Exercise is extremely important for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. People who engage in regular physcial activity ten to develop Alzheimer’s later in life, and a healthy routine can actually help slow the progression of the disease. Exercises are also an excellent way to relax and destress as well.
Adult day programs and assisted living facilities typically feature a wide array of physical activity classes. Options at can range from a series of simple stretches and movements coupled with breathing techniques to chair yoga. This seated form of yoga is gentle and promotes physical and mental wellness. Participants can sit in a chair to do the poses or stand while using the chair for stability.
Exercise can also provide relief from many other health issues associated with aging, improve muscle strength and cardiovascular health, and reduce the risk of falls. Improved mood, confidence and self-esteem are psychological benefits of staying active also.
If you are a caregiver creating an in-home activity program for a loved one, try to select one that you can also participate in so you can reap these important benefits too. Be sure to check with your loved one’s doctor to ensure the exercises you would like to engage in are appropriate and beneficial for your loved one and yourself.
Cooking and dining
Cooking and food preparation celebrate the joy and pleasure that can come from making and sharing a meal. Besides the obvious importance of nutrition for older individuals, food provides a chance for socialization and an opportunity to reminisce about favorite foods, special occasions and traditional recipes. It is a wonderful way to stimulate the senses.
Day care centers and long-term care facilities often feature simple projects such as baking cookies or making lemonade. Some board and care homes offer residents the opportunity to help with daily meal preparation to the extent they are able. You can also structure some of your in-home cooking routines and recipes to accommodate the participation of your loved one. Everyone enjoys feeling useful and having a sense of purpose.
Simple kitchen projects and recipes are a wonderful way to help dementia patients stay engaged and participate in their care. Not to mention, a loved one who is a finicky eater is more likely to eat well if they have participated in creating their snack or meal.
Research has established that persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias often experience a spike in creativity. Activities involving creative expression celebrate and encourage imagination involving the arts, poetry and music. Many adult day centers and care communities have an arts and crafts area with structured projects and regularly provide musical entertainment and even poetry readings.
The part of the brain that processes music remains intact in many individuals with dementia, and their reaction to music can be truly profound. Music is a popular way to calm an aggitated or confused loved one and connect with individuals who have difficulty speaking or communicating.
It was previously believed that people with dementia could not learn and retain information. Now we know that is not true and that even those who are severely forgetful can still enjoy the experience of learning. There are organizations like Active Minds, which deliver teaching on-site to senior communities that can be customized to each audience on compelling, timely topics. Other providers also offer adaptive computer technology for seniors that can challenge and stimulate cognition and learning with an easy-to-use interface. There are other ways to inspire and educate including reading to your loved one, providing them with audiobooks, or playing with specially designed flash cards and other modified educational equipment.
Spirituality has many different meanings for different people. For some, it is a connection with God, or a higher being. For others, it is an experience of awe, focused attention or mental discipline. Having a way to make a spiritual connection can enable a person to find inner peace as they navigate their journey through life. Identify your loved one’s preference, and help them to engage in life-affirming experiences.
Whether you would like to enrich your loved one’s life while in your home or you are considering adult day care or a memory care community, it is important to understand the programs they offer that are designed to enrich the lives of those with dementia. These options are not merely distractions or a method of entertainment. These facilities are specially designed to help our aging loved ones feel useful and involved in life. Matching your loved one’s needs and interests with offered programs can help you both feel confident in whatever type of care plan you choose.