My Elderly Parent Has Dementia: What Activities Can We Do?

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Caregivers for the elderly with dementia often find that coming up with activities for the elder can require much thought and effort. But they are vital to your parent's health and well-being. Creating activities can really be quite simple if you follow some general guidelines.

Create Meaningful Activities

  • Consider their interests
    Depending on how severe your parent's dementia is or their stage of Alzheimer's, activities can vary; however, designing activities that involve their past interests are of the utmost importance. For example, if they love to garden, foster that passion with stimulating gardening activities.

    What if your parent does not have either the physical or cognitive capability to engage in activities they once loved? Beth Kallmyer, former Director of Family and Information Services for the Alzheimer's Association, recommends adjusting activities to fit their abilities. If your parent loved gardening but no longer has the mental ability to engage in it independently, consider assisting them or simplifying the activity. You can go outside with them and do planting and gardening together, or you can bring a few pots with seeds inside the house for your parent to water daily.

    Try to make activities meaningful, rather than ones aimed at simply passing time. Even though your parent may not remember different activities they do, he or she will simply enjoy the moment. It contributes to their general happiness.

  • Reestablish old routines
    It is very common for seniors to feel as if they have lost their sense of purpose. Design activities that you and your parent can do together and that will make them feel needed and useful. Many things people do are habitual – for example, washing dishes, folding laundry or taking out the trash. Your parent's ability may not be what it once was, but giving them a small task that they are able to accomplish independently or helping you with a more complicated task will create a safe sense of purpose for them.
  • Provide opportunity for social interaction
    Even though your parent's cognitive and/or physical abilities have declined, they still need to interact with others regularly. "Humans have a basic need for social connectedness and those with Alzheimer's disease, regardless of what stage of the disease they are in, still have that need," said Kallmyer. If possible, have your parent accompany you with the grocery shopping or while running errands. In general, elders with dementia can feel anxiety in over crowded or hectic areas, so when you take them out with you, make sure to go at a less busy time. Your parent will enjoy the social interaction. Don't worry about how others may react should your parent have an outburst. Simply taking them with you is important.

  • Engage in physical exercise
    Another According to Kallmyer, elders with dementia often wander because they are not getting enough exercise. Take daily walks with them, if possible; they can reduce agitation. If the weather does not permit walking, have your parent use a stationary bike. A good time for exercise is when they are already feeling agitated or when they feel bored.

A major concern for caregivers for elders with dementia is that they become withdrawn and are resistant to participate in any activities. In these situations, it is important to get creative. Kallmyer said, "Sometimes people with Alzheimer' disease work well with different people." If possible, she recommends trying to get different people to engage in activities with the elderly parent. Sometimes, a different face can be the solution and your parent may be willing to participate in various activities. It is important to know that if your parent is becoming increasingly agitated you should talk to his or her doctor.

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27 Comments

I need age approp. puzzles that are from 10-35 pieces-no more-do they exist-where do I get them?
I have to admit it's been very challenging to come up with pleasurable, meaningful activities, but the things that have worked are feeding the birds at the local pond. We also sit outside mom's condo, enjoying the sunshine, talking to neighbors that walk by. Sometimes I do mom's nails while we're sitting outside. I also got a basket and put in lots of letters (I call it the basket of love), cards she has received over the years and we sit and I read them to her. This does wonders for her self-esteem and helps her to be aware of how others love her. One of the best things is that I just sit on the arm of her lazy boy chair where she is sitting and we watch TV together with her dog on her lap. I often put my arm around her and just kiss her occasionally on top of her head. We used to play scrabble, but she isn't able to do that any longer. So I adjusted things and I put all the scrabble letters on the table and we just try to put words together 'til the letters are all gone. This seems to help her brain and it IS fun, challenging. Lately I have had her join me in grocery shopping for just a few items and I put a small basket in her lap and put a few things we need in the basket. This helps her to feel part of the process. I also take her to a writers group and read portions of the one major story she wrote probably 20 years ago. She gets attention and feedback....does wonders for her. Recently I took her to the library and we looked up some of her ancestors on website: Ancestry and found all kinds of stuff. Amazing. I took all of the family photos and made up about a dozen specific types of photo albums.....one of the grandkids, one family album, one of family travels, one of her bestest of friends that passed away, one just of her dad, about 4 albums just of her travels. This has helped tremendously when the grandkids, or others stop by or even when I can get a caregiver to assist. At least it's something for them to look at and talk about. I then found some bingo cards at a rummage sale and wrote the card numbers on sheets of paper and put the papers in a small container to pull from and then use pennies to use as markers on the cards. Occasionally I have her assist me in making dinner by chopping up veggies or setting the table. Mom has macular degeneration, so I read the newspaper to her or simple childrens stories. I was able to find a darling children talking book at the library and she enjoyed that. Mom is 95 yrs. old. So, I share this with you all and hope you all can be inspired from some of this. It definitely is challenging. Chris
Wendylou, suggestions of things to do are just that, suggestions. None of them work for everyone. For some people nothing seems to work. Some people who used to do 1500 piece jig saws are content to do 300 pieces. Others who can no longer do the 1500 pieces are insulted by lesser puzzles and won't do them. My mother still does crosswords, but at a much easier level than she used to. All you can do is try a scaled-down version of an old passtime, but not insist.

I think that senior centers and day care places can be beneficial even if the senior doesn't actively socialize. It is good to have another adult compliment a new shirt or just be polite and attentive.

All you can do is try, Wendylou. There are no guarantees for success. :(