Activities that utilize all 5 senses are very important when interacting with a person who has dementia. A loved one might not remember how to bake their famous chocolate chip cookie recipe, but when given the ingredients, its amazing how quickly they may start mixing and rolling out the dough onto a cookie sheet. The muscles have an amazing ability to remember things that the mind has forgotten.
The dining table is a place where many memories and experiences are made, and food always has a wonderful way of bringing people together: birthdays, holidays, potlucks, summer barbeques, weddings, etc. Plan a tasting of different types of chocolates or teas, or familiar holiday treats such as: candy corns, Valentine sweethearts, candy canes, or the beloved Easter peeps. Prepare a fruit salad, sneaking sweet bites along the way. String together cranberries, or popcorn for a fun and tasty activity. Have a ball cleaning out and carving a pumpkin, and then roasting the seeds for a delicious snack. These activities are as much about the stories, laughter, and fun, as they are about the preparation and tastings.
Music stirs up many feelings and emotions about important moments in one’s lifetime. Throw in some tunes that you know your loved one listened to during different eras, and important events in their life. It could be singing happy birthday around a lit birthday cake, dancing to a song in the middle of the living room, or singing holiday carols that can bring up emotions of years gone by.
It might be a nice idea to take your loved one to a local concert or musical they would enjoy, or simply sit around the stereo and play name that tune.
Our senses have the uncanny ability to transport us back to a different time in our lives. The smell of flowers while on a nice walk might remind us of gardening with a parent or child. That first crisp smell of fall might bring them back to their childhood, when we looked forward to the days of trick or treating and bobbing for apples. Using the sense of smell to engage someone with dementia is a wonderful activity, and there are so many different things to try: sample different perfumes, smell the different coffees while shopping at the store, pick a bunch of fragrant fresh flowers, or brew mulling spices and let the air smell of holiday goodness.
Humans love and crave the touch of another. Just as newborns respond to touch, and skin to skin contact of their mother. Even as people age, the need for touch is still very important. Something about a soft hand reaching out to be held, can make a tough day that much easier. Some easy ways to incorporate touch into a loved ones daily routine are: Plan a spa day and do manicures and pedicures, find out if there are any therapy pets in their area and plan a visit, fold warm laundry together, weed a garden, or brush a loved one’s hair.
Visual activities can be a wonderful and helpful stimulus for someone dealing with dementia, especially if they are in a more advanced stage. Sometimes the gift of seeing something beautiful, even a gorgeous sunset, can transform one’s sour mood into a pleasant one. Creating a space that is colorful and interesting, but not too busy is one idea. It is important not to overwhelm their senses with too much at once. Instead, try to focus on one bold sight at a time. Collecting colorful fall foliage together is always refreshing and fun. Look through old photographs, newspapers, or magazine clippings together. It can be as simple as cutting coupons, dying Easter eggs, or snuggling up to watch a classic and colorful movie, like The Wizard of OZ.
Of course, exercise is healthy at any stage in one’s life, but when working with someone facing dementia, it is especially important to be creative in your approach to physical activity. Whether than trying to implement a workout regimen, try using daily activities to get a loved one moving. It doesnt matter how basic the activity, the important thing is that they are moving and engaging in some sort of exercise. Some ideas to invite the idea of fitness into their day could be: watering the plants, ironing or hanging up clothing, washing dishes and loading the dishwasher, dusting the furniture, feeding the birds, or putting a golf ball into a cup, for a hole in one.
Remember to keep the activity light and simple. The activity doesn’t have to be completed, and may not end up as planned. This is why the actual activity should never be the goal. Hearing your loved ones laughter or seeing their face light up with a smile from comfort, familiarity, or just feeling love and support is the ultimate goal. Someone who is struggling with dementia can change on a day-to-day, or moment-to-moment basis. So, start simple and encourage them to have an open mind to try new things.