For a person with Alzheimer’s, activities structure the time and enhance their sense of dignity and self-esteem. Structured activities that keep the person involved and interested can reduce behavioral symptoms such as agitation, anger, frustration, depression, wandering and rummaging. Activities can also help maintain motor skills that aid daily tasks such as buttoning a shirt or recognizing household objects. When planning activities, it is important to keep their skills and abilities in mind. Activities that match a person’s skill level offer a sense of control and independence.
As the caregiver it is up to you to choose the activity, and creating well-planned activities can improve the quality of life for your loved one. Here are some points to remember when choosing an activity:
Focus on enjoyment, not achievement
Encourage involvement of daily life
Relate to past work life
Change activities as needed
Adjust activities to stages of the disease
Your approach to activities is also important and can bring meaning, purpose, joy and hope to a person’s life. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Offer support and supervision
Concentrate on the process, not the result
Help get the activity started
Break activities into simple, easy-to-follow steps
Assist with difficult parts of the task
Stress a sense of purpose
Don’t criticize or correct the person
Make activities safe
Minimize distractions that can frighten or confuse the person
The types of activities appropriate for a person with Alzheimer’s depends on the progression of their illness. As the caregiver, you have to determine what level of activity is appropriate. Your doctor, nursing staff or social worker should be able to help you find the best activities and direct you to community resources that can help. The following list is some of the recommended activities for a person with Alzheimer’s:
Walking: Walking is a great activity that provides exercise. Also, the movement and fresh air may help the person sleep better at night. Taking the person for a walk can help reduce wandering. Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities offer walking paths for people with dementia to wander in a safe environment.
Gardening: Gardening is a good activity for a person with Alzheimer’s, especially if the person gardened in the past. Gardening can be calming and comforting, and basic, repetitive tasks, such as raking the leaves, may be fulfilling. In addition, completing each step of the planting process requires problem solving, decision making and other cognitive abilities. Use herbs and other nontoxic plants that arouse multiple senses.
Household Chores: Folding clothes, setting the dining table, sweeping, dusting, vacuuming, etc. It is good to keep people with dementia involved in these activities as long as possible.People with Alzheimer’s often want to help, and if you use phrases like, “I’m really busy, can you help me set the table?” they would love to do it.
Sorting: Sort objects by color, shape or design. A deck of cards can be sorted into colors or suits and buttons can be sorted into different sizes and colors.Other items that are good for sorting are poker chips, bottle caps, rocks, and silverware. To keep it interesting, you may want to infuse the game with their favorite hobbies. For example, baseball fans can sort cards by team or position.
Stringing: Another fun activity for a person with Alzheimer’s is stringing. You can get cheerios, fruit loops, or popcorn, along with some string, and string up a chain to put outside for the birds. You could also get beads or shells and make jewelry.
Memory Book/Scrap Book: Because people with Alzheimer’s lose their short term memory first and hold on to memories from the past, a memory book is a pleasurable activity for them. The person with Alzheimer’s should be encouraged to remember special holidays and occasions, their family, and things that they used to enjoy.
Music: Some music therapists have found that people with advanced Alzheimer's often respond well to music, and especially music from their past, which may trigger old memories. Encourage your loved one to sing along.
Remember that even as the Alzheimer’s disease progresses, people will retain all of his or her senses.It is important to:
Talk to him or her
Comb her hair
Moisturize her skin
Shave his face
Get her a manicure or a hand massage with scented oil
Give her dolls with zippers and buttons to play with or soft teddy bears, textured cloth, or fur to stroke.