Activities to Engage Your Loved One with Memory Loss
When you’re caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of memory loss, it’s important to help them find ways to express themselves and feel a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small. Keeping a loved one engaged and entertained throughout the day is a crucial part of successful caregiving.
As you learn more about your loved one’s disease and how memory loss affects them personally, you’ll better understand the types of activities that will engage them and promote health and happiness. With creativity and careful planning, you can discover the best methods for creating engaging days that bring your loved one a sense of purpose, self-worth and joy.
The Importance of Engagement
Staying mentally and physically active may not slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, but it can help to improve motor skills, lessen behaviors like agitation or wandering and, most importantly, enhance your loved one’s quality of life. According to the AARP article, “Activities for People with Alzheimer’s Disease”:
“There will always be part of that individual who wants to help, participate, and succeed. Although as the caregiver you will want to find activities that take in account lost abilities, you should always focus on the person and not the disease. Even if your loved one does not remember the activity, the joy he feels from taking part in a project, big or small, leaves a positive effect and contributes to an overall sense of happiness.”
Those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may withdraw from things they used to enjoy and require their caregiver’s encouragement to stay engaged. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it helps to talk with your loved one about their concerns regarding social engagements, pastimes or other activities they stopped pursuing. This will allow you some insight into your loved one’s mind and give you a foundation for planning activities that will keep your loved one happy while making the best of their current abilities.
Considerations for Planning Engaging Activities
Activities for those with Alzheimer’s should have a purpose – exercise, self-expression, promoting independence, enjoyment, relaxation – anything that will improve your loved one’s quality of life. Remember that as the disease progresses, you may have to simplify tasks and activities, adapting them to your loved one’s current abilities.
When engaging your loved one in an activity, memory care experts suggest the following guidelines for success:
- Keep past interests in mind. Plan activities that your loved one used to enjoy, such as knitting, taking care of the garden or baking.
- Pay attention to their mood. Take note of whether your loved one feels happy, anxious, confused or irritable during an activity. This can help you determine what will be most engaging.
- Consider what your loved one does naturally. If they habitually read the paper with their morning coffee, make sure that option is available, and consider it part of their daily routine.
- Focus of enjoyment, not achievement. Although it’s good to plan activities that provide comfortable challenges for your loved one, it’s more important that they enjoy what they are doing. Make activities failure-free. The goal isn’t to accomplish a task perfectly, but rather to bring fun and meaning into their day.
- Encourage involvement in daily life. Ask your loved one to help you with daily tasks. Folding towels, setting the table or cleaning up can help them feel like a valuable part of the household.
- Be flexible. If you notice that a certain activity is causing frustration or annoyance, try something else. It’s a good idea to have alternative plans in mind to suit your loved one’s moods and energy levels.
- Consider the time of day. Select the time of day most appropriate for an activity. If your loved one has more energy in the morning, go for a walk. If they are more alert in the evening, try reading together or working on a puzzle.
- Establish a routine. Take note of your loved one’s favorite activities and incorporate them into their daily routine. Make activities fresh by applying new content to enjoyed activities. For example, if your loved one likes art projects, switch out colored pencils for water colors.
As a caregiver, it’s important to remain patient and encouraging with your loved one. Provide ways to promote self-expression and communication. Involve them in conversation, even if you do most of the talking. Remember not to criticize or correct them, but instead offer to help with more difficult parts of an activity.
Possible Ideas for Engaging Activities
An activity is simply anything we do throughout the day, either together or alone, as part of our daily routine or as a break from the norm. Here are just a few examples of activities you can do with your loved one:
- Hobbies and crafts: Paint, draw, garden, knit or sing
- Exercise: Walk, do yoga or tai chi, dance
- Play games: Play sorting games or solve puzzles
- Daily chores: Do laundry, wash dishes, clean up
- Help others: Volunteer together, start a food or toy drive
- Reminisce: Look through old photos, trinkets or souvenirs, talk about past times
- Entertainment: Listen to music, watch favorite films
- Pet therapy: Spend time playing with a pet
- Sensory engagement: Give a massage or manicure, comb hair, talk
With warmer weather coming, opportunities for engagement can expand as you and your loved one spend time outdoors. For example:
- Exercise outside: go for a walk; do tai chi
- Work in the garden or plant flowers
- Go on a picnic or take a walk through the park
- Read together outdoors
- Set up a bird feeder and enjoy bird watching
Don’t be afraid to try new things as you discover what engages your loved one. Not every activity may be successful, but with patience and effort, you can increase your loved one’s quality of life by helping them enjoy meaningful days.
For more information about caring for your loved one with memory loss, contact The Commons to speak with one of our senior living experts.