by Jen Harris, Community Life & Outreach Manager
Being mentally active is important for people living with dementia. Performing fun activities can help them stay alert and interested in daily living. Cognitive-specific activities, such as assembling puzzles, not only provides mental stimulation but can also generate integral social interactions. Reminiscence therapy can also help improve the quality of life for most individuals with dementia; these types of activities include looking through photo albums, telling stories, creating a scrapbook with captions, and rereading letters and cards.
Meaningful activities should be scaled back as needed so individuals can master one or two activities, especially activities they had enjoyed in the past. For example, a person who was a gourmet cook may still enjoy cooking, but recipes may need to be simplified to reduce frustration. Taking on challenging activities also boosts confidence; if someone was an accomplished knitter prior to being diagnosed with dementia, helping that person to knit in a more simplified form, such as using a pattern, will connect the person to his/her past while having the opportunity to be productive and creative.
Being consistently involved in activities can decrease isolation and anxiety. Happiness can be a direct result of daily activities such as a light exercise, walking, or indoor gardening. These activities can be simplified to accommodate a person’s ability so they don’t become irritated.
Intergenerational activities may also have a significant impact on the lives of seniors with dementia. Studies have shown that older adults who regularly engage with children performed better on memory tests than their peers who lack interaction with youth. Besides positively impacting the seniors, everyone involved will be delighted in performing the activity together.
Music is known to improve moods. People can respond through dance, humming, and singing along. Listening to favorite songs or pieces of music promotes memories and boosts brain activity. Some people who have dementia may have difficulty remembering names or places, however the power of music can elicit someone to remember the lyrics of their favorite song. Music also promotes communication, sparks emotions, provides opportunities to interact with others, and can be used to assist with managing pain and discomfort.
The feeling of being useful and getting enjoyment out of the process of an activity is more important than the outcome. Whether or not a puzzle or a craft project is finished, most individuals with dementia will feel good about working on a project and being productive. The next time you’re spending time with a loved one with dementia, make sure to enjoy an activity with him/her from the past.