Staying active in the early stage of Alzheimer's disease
People with dementia retain memory for some activities, such as reading, typing or playing the piano, depending on which part of the brain has been damaged.
People in the early stages of dementia will likely continue to enjoy activities they have enjoyed before diagnosis. If you are close to someone in the early stage, be aware of the danger of taking over jobs and tasks too quickly in an attempt to minimize your own stress. For example, if she washes the dishes, accept that it might not get done to the standard that you would normally like. Recognize that she will feel she has made a useful contribution, and that’s what is important.
- Encourage the person to enjoy activities on his own.
- Provide encouragement and reminders.
- Put any equipment in a place where the person can see it and reach it easily. If you leave a potato out with a potato peeler, the person might try using it.
- When you suggest what to do, use short sentences.
- Set aside time in the day when you are going to focus on doing something enjoyable for both of you, away from the normal routines of the day.
Consider inviting other people (including paid workers, family members or volunteers) to spend time with the person to do something they both enjoy, such as going for a walk or playing a game of cards. If you are the sole caregiver, you might find it hard to hand things over and trust others, but they may bring a fresh approach that the person may enjoy in new ways. When you are a full-time caregiver, it can be hard to have the energy to always give “quality time” to the person if you are exhausted and stressed.
- Craft activities: These might include simple craft activities, such as creating collages from magazines, or knitting. Someone who has been a skilful knitter may still be able to knit squares for a blanket.
- Puzzles: Someone who has enjoyed doing crossword puzzles may still enjoy a puzzle book.
- Doing things together: The person may like to play cards or board games, or do some gardening, planning meals or baking together.
- Activities around the home: Men and women alike can enjoy helping with washing and drying dishes, setting the table or making beds. Again, the end result may not be perfect, but it can give an important sense of achievement. The person might be surprisingly interested in odd jobs, such as sorting through a drawer or a toolbox.
- Music: Even when other abilities are severely affected, many people still enjoy singing, dancing and listening to music. Record a collection of the person's favourite pieces of music or songs for her to listen to, or ask a friend to help you.
- TV and radio: Many people enjoy listening to the radio or watching television. Some people with dementia, however, lose the ability to tell the difference between what is real and what is on the screen, and can become distressed. They can also become confused by too much noise. Try watching television together, and choose programs with small sections of action or humour, rather than one with an involved plot. Some people have found using headphones can help them concentrate better.
- Communal activities: If the person has a connection with an organization within the local community, whether it is a place of worship, a coffee shop or a club, continuing to visit this place might be very important. It may help if a family member or caregiver has some gentle discussions with other attendees to encourage them to continue to welcome the person with dementia, and to minimize any embarrassment.
Some people with dementia enjoy social situations in a way that can surprise those close to them. Others become daunted by being away from the safety of their own home and avoid going out. If the person seems reluctant to join in, don't always take the first “no” for an answer. People will sometimes just say “no” as the safest option and will actually enjoy themselves if pushed a little to take the step out the door. But don’t force him to do something that he clearly doesn't enjoy.