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Choosing Activities for Those With Alzheimer’s

  December 08, 2018

By Hannah White, Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter

In the early stages of dementia, the person living with the disease may withdraw from activities he or she previously enjoyed. It is important to help your loved one remain engaged. Having an open discussion around any concerns and making slight adjustments can make a difference. For example, a large social gathering may be overwhelming, but the person with the disease may be able to interact more successfully in smaller groups.

 As Alzheimer's progresses, you may need to make other adjustments to a loved one’s activity. Below are some tips on how to make activities successful for all involved.
  • Keep the person's skills and abilities in mind. Stick with activities the person affected has always enjoyed and adjust, as needed, to match the person's current abilities.
  • Pay special attention to what the person enjoys. Take note when those affected seem happy, anxious, distracted, or irritable.
  • Consider if the person begins activities without direction. Does he or she set the table before dinner or sweep 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 get tired quickly or have difficulty seeing, hearing, or performing simple movements?
  • Focus on enjoyment, not achievement. Find activities that build on remaining skills and talents. A professional artist might become frustrated over the declining quality of work, but an amateur might enjoy a new opportunity for self-expression.
  • Encourage involvement in daily life. Activities that help the affected individual feel like a valued part of the household — like setting the table — can provide a sense of success and accomplishment.
  • Relate activity to work life. 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 former farmer or gardener may take pleasure in working in the yard.
  • Look for favorites. The person with the disease who always enjoyed drinking coffee and reading the newspaper may still find these activities enjoyable, even if he or she is not able to completely understand what the newspaper says.
  • Consider time of day. Caregivers may find they have more success with certain activities at specific times of day, such as bathing and dressing in the morning.
  • Adjust activities to disease stages. 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.

Your approach
If you notice a loved one’s attention span waning or frustration level increasing, it's likely time to end or modify the activity.
  • Help get the activity started. Most people with dementia still have the energy and desire to do things but may lack the ability to organize, plan, initiate, and successfully complete the task.
  • Offer support and supervision. You may need to show the person how to perform the activity and provide simple, easy-to-follow steps.
  • Be flexible. When your loved one 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 it a different way, let it happen, and change it later if necessary.
  • Break activities into simple, easy-to-follow steps. Focus on one task at a time. Too many directions at once can be overwhelming.
  • Let the individual know he or she is needed. Ask, "Could you please help me?" Be careful, however, not to place too many demands upon the person with the disease.
  • Make the connection. If you ask a loved one to make a card, he or she may not respond. But, if you say that you're sending a special get-well card to a friend and invite him or her to join you, they may enjoy working on this task with you.
  • Don't criticize or correct the person. If the person affected enjoys a harmless activity, even if it seems insignificant or meaningless to you, encourage the person to continue.
  • Encourage self-expression. Include activities that allow the affected person a chance for expression. These types of activities could include painting, drawing, music, or conversation.
Someone living with dementia may withdraw from activities he or she previously enjoyed. It is important to help them remain engaged and making slight adjustments to their activities can make a difference. To get help locally you can always visit our Springfield, Illinois office at 2309 W. White Oaks Drive Suite E, call our free 24/7 helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org/illinois. Back to Top

December 08, 2018


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