Meaningful activity for someone with dementia
Meaningful activity is important to help us all maintain a good quality of life, whether we are living with dementia or not. It is particularly important for people with dementia. The last two years has meant that our lives have become more restricted and we have spent more time at home – often in isolation.
This has been daunting at times and we have let many of the activities and social interactions we previously enjoyed go by the wayside.
People living with dementia often begin to withdraw from activities and social interactions which they previously enjoyed even without the intervention of a pandemic.
I wanted to share some general tips for managing your time at home and some suggestions for activities.
Establish a daily routine and keep to it each day to help orientate your family member, e.g. get up at the same time, have breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time.
Do a particular activity at the same time each day, e.g. walk in the morning, watch a film after lunch, hot chocolate before bed. Routines will help keep a structure and help you feel that you have some control over your day.
If you can, try to sit in different rooms to fit with the activities, e.g. only go to your bedroom at night when you want to sleep. Sit in the kitchen or dining room to eat if that is possible. If you only have one room, then try to vary the activities in it, e.g. have the radio or music on in the morning and only put the TV on in the evening.
Try and avoid sleeping during the day; the occasional nap won’t hurt, but try not to sleep for any length of time, as it will make it more difficult to sleep at night.
In general …
- Don’t pressure yourself to fill the whole day with lots of activities. Take time to rest as well. The person you care for may only have a short attention span, so a variety of short activities is enough. Doing day to day tasks can be exhausting in themselves so allow breaks and rest time.
- Allow time for yourself as a carer to do things for you by doing things that you enjoy. Your wellbeing is as important as the person you care for.
- Stay connected – make regular contact with family and friends by telephone. If you can video call this may be easier for the person you are caring for to recognise who is calling.
Focus on the familiar and the sensory
Focus on familiar tasks or activities. Encourage the person you look after to be involved in as many activities of daily living as they can even if they need supervision and prompting.
We generally encourage people to consider the senses and try and do a variety of activities that stimulate the senses:
What can you see?
Take a look outside. Get out into nature, into the garden or park or just out of the window. Have a look at pictures/photos, artwork, books or watch nature programs.
What can you hear?
Listen to some relaxing music, the sounds of nature or music that you love. If you have YouTube or internet access on your TV you can search for beach scenes or aquariums that then play on a loop.
What can you smell?
Breathe in the aroma of flowers, herbs or baking something delicious like ginger biscuits or fruit cake. Baking smells should also stimulate the appetite too.
What can you taste?
This could be a time to try new flavours, you may find that the person you care for may prefer different things now. Often people with dementia like the sensation stronger flavours like curry or things that are very sweet.
What can you feel?
Do some activities that involve different textures. Do you have any lovely sensory materials or cushions that someone could snuggle up with? Any pets that you can stroke or cuddly toys etc.
There is an endless number of things to do and try but remember a few minutes at a time is enough.
The Alzheimer’s Society have a useful list of activity ideas – https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/get-support/staying-independent/activity-ideas-dementia
Kate Legg is an Associate Practitioner with Dementia Carers Count. Kate is an Occupational Therapist working in Older Persons Mental Health services in Portsmouth. She has a master’s degree in dementia studies and is particularly interested in supporting people with dementia to do meaningful activities.