Finding suitable activities
If you want to help someone with dementia take part in activities, talk to him about which ones he might enjoy. Try to find imaginative ways to adapt the activities to his changing capabilities and moods. A recreation therapist can be a great source of ideas.
Popular ideas include:
Exercising together will benefit both the person with dementia and anyone accompanying her. Exercise burns up the adrenalin produced by stress and frustration, and produces endorphins, which can promote feelings of happiness. This will help both parties relax and increase their sense of well-being. Exercise helps develop a healthy appetite, increases energy levels and promotes a better night's sleep. Exercise does not need to be vigorous, strenuous or structured.
- Walking is a great form of exercise that provides a change of scene and fresh air. Short walks can make a big difference, even if it is only to mail a letter or go out for a coffee.
- Swimming is another good all-round exercise, and the feeling of being in the water can be soothing and calming.
- Classes may be suitable if the person wants something more social. Find out if your local community centre offers classes suitable for older people. You may need to attend together to support the person.
Reminders of the past
People with dementia can often remember the distant past more easily than recent events. If you can find a way to help trigger the more distant, pleasant memories, the person may become more animated and interested. Not everyone enjoys reminiscing about the past, but the following suggestions might be useful for those who do:
- Talk about the past together, while looking at old family photos or books with pictures, or while listening to music.
- Make up a memory or rummage box of objects that the person with dementia might be interested in. Physically handling things may trigger memories more effectively than looking at pictures.
- A visit to a favourite place might also prompt happy memories and provide another opportunity to get out and about.
- Be aware that talking about the past in this way can sometimes trigger strong emotions in the person you care for, so it's important to be sensitive, to listen, comfort and reassure the person. You may uncover painful memories as well as happy ones.
- Dementia damages the memory and the thinking and reasoning parts of the brain, but the person can still express emotion. It is not necessarily a bad thing if the person becomes emotional, but if she does, make sure you allow her to express her feelings, and acknowledge these.
- Avoid asking very specific questions that require factual responses and could put the person on the spot; the main purpose is to enjoy the memories rather than to make the person feel tested in any way. For example, instead of asking “Do you remember that day we went to the baseball game?” suggest, “I remember that day we went to the baseball game. It was so hot!”