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Meaningful Activities & Interaction with Alzheimer’s Patients or Loved Ones

Cooking TogetherJust like you and me, people with dementia need to have meaningful relationships and activities. They can probably do more than you think, and they certainly want to feel useful and be involved as much as possible in things that reflect life-long preferences. Often times, they are also capable of learning to do and enjoy new things.

Meaningful activities can meet needs related to behavioral symptoms, help maintain the ability to carry out daily activities and improve quality of life. They need to be shared in a relationship of trust and sincere interest, because a person with dementia can sense a lack of interest or impatience, even when they might not be able to communicate verbally. When planning activities, keep in mind the person’s interests, choices and abilities, and find things you can do together.

Assessment Guidelines

The Alzheimer’s Association provides these guidelines to safely involve people with dementia in the most meaningful activities. First, determine their:

  1. Ability to move (with and without assistance)
  2. Daily routine and schedule
  3. Capacity for mental stimulation
  4. Ability to communicate (e.g., status of speech and hearing)
  5. Interest in social relationships
  6. Desire for spiritual participation
  7. Cultural values
  8. Work history and habits
  9. Leisure interests and choices such as favorite music and movies
  10. Opportunities for transportation to community activities
  11. Need for assessment from an occupational or physical therapist, or speech-language

Ideas from the Internet

I was amazed at the number of resources that popped up when I simply Googled “Activities for People with Dementia.” Links to some of the sites the seemed the most helpful are provided below. I’ll just touch on some of my favorite activity choices here.

Meal Preparation:  When preparing a meal, help the person with dementia to participate in a safe way. For example, he or she could tear the lettuce, stir the soup, place the bread on the plate, measure or mix ingredients or simply hold the spoon. Participating in a cooking task is more meaningful than just watching it. A person who might not be able to participate in the entire preparation of a meal, could possibly help serve the meal or set the table. 

Gardening: Start a vegetable/herb/flower garden that the person with dementia can help to plant, weed or water. Gardening can be therapeutic, whether or not a plant grows. The outcome of an activity is not as important as the person’s participation in it and the feeling of usefulness they get from it. Other examples: Dusting can be satisfying even if it isn’t done perfectly. Washing the car, even if it doesn’t end up clean, can still be fun.

Music: If a person’s history shows that he or she enjoys playing a musical instrument, singing or even just listening to music, play music or sing a song together that is familiar. Simple rhythm instruments could be used to help the person create or add to music. Moving to music can be great exercise and a boost to morale.

Involvement in a faith community: If religious participation has been important to the person in pre-dementia days, it is important to help the person remain connected with his or her place of worship. Help the faith community understand dementia by asking the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter to provide education to the clergy and congregation.

In conclusion: Keep in mind that the length of the activity needs to fit the person’s ability to concentrate and stay involved. Thirty minutes or less is best for most people with dementia. Some people can’t sit through or complete an entire activity, but they might be able to enjoy just part of it.

Check out these resources and other websites for a wealth of activity ideas:

“Activities for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients,” by Kay Paggi

Activities to Do with Dementia Patients,” By Lynda Lanford, eHow Contributor

101 Things to Do with a Person with Alzheimer’s,” by Gina Salazar, AD

Choosing Activities to Do with the Dementia Patient,” by Paula Farris

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