Activities are things we do, like getting dressed, doing chores, playing cards — even paying bills. They can be active or passive, done alone or with others. Activities represent who we are and what we’re about, and usually keep a person active and occupied most of the day.
A person with dementia can still be active, but will eventually need a caregiver’s assistance to organize the day. Planned activities can enhance the person’s sense of dignity and self-esteem by giving more purpose and meaning to his or her life. Although activities don’t necessarily slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, they do improve your loved one’s quality of life. Games, housework, and activities can lessen agitation and depression. Activities can also help maintain motor skills that aid daily tasks such as buttoning a shirt or recognizing household objects. Projects that match a person’s skill level also give a sense of ownership and independence. When your loved one completes an activity, he or she gains a sense of accomplishment in the same manner we all do. Activities also help relieve a caregiver’s frustration by keeping the loved one stimulated and by fostering emotional connection and self-expression. Activities structure time and can also reduce unwanted behavior, like wandering or agitation. For people with Alzheimer’s disease, a successful activity, whether it’s listening to music or playing a game, helps create meaning and connects them to past interests. Both a person with dementia and his or her caregiver can enjoy the sense of security and togetherness that activities can provide.
In the early stages of dementia, a person may withdraw from activities he or she previously enjoyed. It is important to help the person remain engaged. Having an open discussion with family members involved about any concerns and making slight adjustments can make a difference. Keeping everyone on the same page about activities is crucial.
Planning a daily strategy
Create a daily plan to organize activities. The ideal way is to plan for the entire week. This way you can have everything prepared and can discuss what activity to look forward to for the next day. The strategies for activity planning focus on four main criteria:
Planning activities for a person with dementia is best when you continually explore, experiment and adjust. Every day is a new day and can be different than previous days. Consider the person’s likes and dislikes, strengths and abilities, and interests. As the disease progresses, keep activities flexible and be ready to make adjustments. Pay special attention to what the person enjoys. Take note when the person seems happy, anxious, distracted or irritable, and adjust the plan as necessary. Some people enjoy watching sports, while others may be frightened by the fast pace or noise. Activities that people enjoyed before the onset of dementia may not work at present. Does the person initiate activities without direction, like putting things away, setting the table, or sweeping the kitchen floor mid-morning? If so, you may wish to plan these activities as part of the daily routine. Be aware of physical problems. Does he or she tire quickly or have difficulty seeing, hearing or performing simple movements? If so, you may want to avoid certain activities.
Focus on enjoyment, not achievement. Find activities that build on remaining skills and talents. Make activities failure free. If your loved one is involved and happy, don’t correct him as long as he continues the activity. The goal is to engage the person with dementia and encourage a sense of success. Give both verbal and visual instruction. Feel free to tell and to show. If your loved one is accepting, even guide his arms gently as you instruct. If your loved one doesn’t connect with an activity, be sure to have another one ready. Through trial and error, you’ll find activities that best suit your loved one. A former office worker might enjoy activities that involve organizing, like putting coins in a holder, helping to assemble a mailing or making a to-do list. A gardener may take pleasure in working in the yard. As the disease progresses, you may want to introduce more repetitive tasks. Be prepared for the person to eventually take a less active role in activities.