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Approach

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Offer support and supervision. You may need to show the person how to perform the activity and provide simple, step-by-step directions. Concentrate on the process, not the result. Does it matter if the towels are folded properly? Not really. What matters is that you were able to spend time together, and the person feels as if he or she has done something useful. When the person insists that he or she doesn’t want to do something, it may be because he or she can’t do it or fears doing it. Don’t force it. If the person insists on doing something a different way, let it happen, and change it later if necessary. Don’t ask the person to do certain tasks, rather ask if the person would like to help you with your tasks.

While you’re polishing shoes, washing the car or cooking dinner, talk to the person about what you’re doing. Even if the person cannot respond, he or she is likely to benefit from your communication. If a person with dementia rubs his or her hand on a table, put a cloth in his or her hand and encourage the person to wipe the table. Or, if the person is moving his or her feet on the floor, play some music so he or she can tap them to the beat. If something isn’t working, it may just be the wrong time of day or the activity may be too complicated. Try again later, or adapt the activity.

 

Place

Make activities safe. Change your surroundings to encourage activities. Place scrapbooks, photo albums or old magazines in easily accessible spots to help the person reminisce. Minimize distractions that can frighten or confuse. A person with dementia may not be able to recall familiar sounds and places, or may feel uncomfortable in certain settings. Hang lots of happy pictures or paintings in the part of the house that the person spends a lot of time. Mirrors confuse the dementia patient. Standing in front of one sometimes causes the person to think there is another person in the room. They don’t always recognize their own reflection.

 

Try some of these activities:

 

  • Listening to music
  • Coloring pictures
  • Clipping coupons
  • Stringing beads
  • Playing with Play Dough
  • Folding laundry
  • Cleaning windows
  • Polishing silverware
  • Raking leaves
  • Baking cookies
  • Blowing bubbles outside
  • Reading books out loud
  • Playing dominoes
  • Watering house plants
  • Dancing to music
  • Rolling yarn into a ball
  • Keeping a daily journal together
  • Sorting objects by shape or color
  • Sorting and count a jar of coins
  • Having a friend visit with a well-behaved pet
  • Cutting out pictures from magazines,
  • Stringing Cheerios to hang outside for birds
  • Building a box out of popsicle sticks
  • Sweeping in front and around the house
  • Playing simple tabletop games like Connect Four
  • Looking through interesting catalogs
  • Assisting with minor preparations in the kitchen,
  • Playing a musical instrument together,
  • Sorting colored poker chips into different columns
  • Folding plastic shopping bags into small packets
  • Making homemade lemonade with real lemons
  • Brushing or combing one another’s hair
  • Taking photos of each other and showing them on the computer,
  • Playing recordings of old songs or music,
  • Going grocery shopping together…and many other simple activities.

 

Just keep rotating the activities and plan rest periods as needed. Note the activities your loved one enjoys. Although your loved one may not remember them the next time, he or she may repeat the processes instinctively. While doing familiar activities, such as sorting objects, keep the procedures the same, but try different content from day to day to keep it fresh for her and for you.

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Mutty Burstein is the Education Outreach Manager of the Patient Relations Department at Americare CSS, a Certified Home Health Agency and Attencia, the private pay division of Americare. The Americare Companies, founded in 1982, provide high quality home care services in the N.Y. metro area, including the 5 boroughs, Long Island, and Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess, Putnam, Sullivan, and Ulster counties. Americare integrates compassionate patient care with family needs and is ready to serve 24/7 with registered nurses, home health aides, PT's, OT's, speech therapists, and social workers. In addition to all the regular aspects of home care, Americare has a special license to work with patients with behavioral health issues and patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and/or depression, as well as the developmentally disabled. Mutty can be reached at 917-287-1636 or mburstein@americareny.com for any questions regarding health care or eligibility for Medicare, Medicaid, and managed care.