As a person's dementia advances, she will still be able to carry out some familiar tasks, but will probably be more interested in doing the activity than in the end result. If this is the case with someone close to you, look for “magic moments” throughout the day rather than trying to carry out sustained activities. Keeping your expectations realistic and enjoying these moments may help you at a difficult time of adjusting to the many changes in the person.
Tips: finding an activity
- Look for activities that are stimulating but that don't involve too many challenges or choices. People with dementia can find it difficult to process options.
- Many people with dementia retain their sense of humour, so look for activities that the person with dementia, and those caring for him, will find entertaining. Having a good laugh will do everyone good. This might mean discovering your own playful or silly side.
- Dementia often affects people's concentration, so that they can't focus on what they are doing for very long. It may be a good idea to do activities in short bursts.
- Dementia can affect a person's motivation. You may have to help her get started, but try not to be disheartened if she doesn’t become interested.
- Break instructions into small, manageable chunks, and make sure each step of the task is very simple. Give instructions one at a time, waiting for the person to complete each step before giving the next one.
- Try to think of activities that involve an easy, repetitive action and simple steps, such as sweeping, dusting or watering plants.
During the later stages of their dementia, people often develop severe difficulties with reasoning and language, but they will still have their senses, such as taste, touch and smell.
To stimulate these senses, you can try the following:
- Encourage the person to touch or stroke pieces of fabric, dolls or cuddly toys.
- Give the person a hand massage, using a scented oil such as lavender. This can be very soothing for those who enjoy touch, although not everyone will like the scent or feel of the oil.
- Continue to take the time to sit and talk to the person or to read out loud. Much anecdotal evidence suggests that a person remains able to hear you talking very late into the progression of the illness.
- Enable the person to watch fish swimming in a fish tank, mobile or a window with a nice view. This may have a calming effect.
- Make sure the person has a regular change of scene and the stimulation of the fresh air and the outdoor environment. If you are visiting someone living in a long-term care home, you can still play a vital role in helping the person feel included and active, even if it is only to take a short walk with her down the corridor or to bring in something of interest from outside the home.