I have worked for 2 years in a nursery home and I treated a lot of patients who were diagnosed with Dementia. When working there I noticed that friends and family find great difficulties in interacting with their beloved one. Most visits to Grannie and grandfather feel obligated and result in a fast cup of coffee with a cookie. One of my jobs was to increase interaction and activity, which would make both parties happier.
Why are activities important for the Elderly with Dementia?
When you grow older, your social network becomes much smaller and there is a big chance you will not go outdoors everyday. Sport is a long lost memory to the past and the results are you will gain weight, have less interaction with people and less exercise. The problem with this is that exercising and social interaction both keep us healthy. Even when we are diagnosed with a disease like Dementia, these points are still very important because they will slow down the deterioration and increase quality of life.
A big problem is that not all activities are suited for every person. Not only does the dementia patient not like all activities, some will also be impossible to do. It is very important that the patient will always be safe and does not get injured while performing an activity. But you also have to challenge the person and don’t make it too easy for them. Challenge them but also not let them fail in what they do. Failure might set them back and make them feel bad. When it is too easy he might get upset because you are not taking him serious or he will get bored. So what activities are suited for dementia patients?
• Social Talk: This might sound very easy to do, but talking socially to a dementia patient can be challenging because you have to direct the subject to the interest of the patient. You cannot ask about recent sport events or his opinion about the results of the elections. A better subject would be to ask about something that he or she knows a lot about. As an example, I always asked what kind of work the patient did and what kind of hobbies he or she liked. Sometimes the patient became really enthusiastic and took some pictures from a box to show me what they did when they were young. Most often they can remember they past pretty good but they do have problems with recent events.
• Group Talk: Instead of vis a vis conversation you can also try to start a group conversation with a view elderly at the same time. Ask their opinions about historical events or subjects that were very relevant to them. Some example questions would be: How big is your family? Where did you go on holidays? How did you meet your wife or husband? What kind of house did you live in? Where were you at the time of the atomic bomb?
• A Simple Game: If you don’t know exactly what to talk about, than why not play a game? The game should not be too difficult and it would be a good idea to help the patient a bit. Good games are checkers or Ludo or another board game. Chess might already be too difficult because it is a complicated game. Also don’t become angry when the patient does not understand the rules of the game; either help them or play another game that he does understand.
• Play with an animal/pet: Did you ever saw a dog in the geriatric department of the nursery home? Patients absolutely love it! They like to talk to it, touch it and play with it. If you have a dog or cat or even a rabbit, ask the nurses if you can take it with you so the patient can touch it and play with it. Some nursery homes have their own pets just for this reason.
• A short Walk: Talking is healthy, but exercising is maybe even more important. If it’s possible, try to walk a short distance. You can walk through the hallway of the nursery home or maybe even to the restaurant if that is possible.
• A longer walk: If the patient is healthy enough than go for a longer walk. Maybe the city center is not that far and you can drink a cup of coffee (or maybe even a beer if that is allowed). You don’t have to walk for miles, but walking is an easy and important exercise, which will keep someone healthier.
• Music Please: Something that almost all Elderly love is music. Play some music and sing along. It does not Matter if he does not remember the lines, as long as he enjoys the music. Off course it would be a good idea to play some music that the patient loves and knows and not music from the last decade.
• Dancing: Dancing is a really good exercise and also very easy to do. Use both arms and legs, move them up or down, to the right or left. If someone is in a wheelchair than focus on the arms and upper body and don’t let this stop her from dancing.
What kind of bigger activities are also suited for Elderly with Dementia?
These activities are mostly organized by the nursery home itself because they use the facilities of the nursery home. But they always need volunteers to help the patients with the activities.
• Working: Everybody wants to be “useful” in live. When you stop working and grow older some people might get depressed because they feel useless. When I worked in the nursery home, we had a workplace where people could work with wood and make something out of the wood (like a small and simple table). It should be really easy to construct, but for the patient it might feel like something really special because they feel themselves useful. They worked hard for a few hours and after work they want to rest or drink a coffee. There are also so called working farms for the elderly where they can help feed the animals or touch some animals.
• Being Creative: Making post card, Christmas cards, do some flower arranging or make a painting. As long as there are some guidelines and enough support for the patient, a lot is possible and they love doing it.
• Bingo: It might sound cliché, but the elderly love Bingo. It is a very simple game to play and with a little help everyone can play it. Everybody loves to win a prize and that is what makes bingo so popular and fun to play in nursery homes.
• Music & Dance: organizing a party is something everybody loves and it is good for both interaction and exercising. Nursery homes have frequently parties aimed for dementia patients where they can sing and dance. They will hire a singer who can sing songs, which are easy to recognize. They will always need volunteers to set the mood straight and encourage the patients to interact and dance.
These are only a few activities good to do with elderly patients and the list can go on and on. Please share what activities you like to do with your friend or relative diagnosed with dementia. I hope these activities will help you in a way that your weekly visit to the nursery home is not a boring obligated moment, but something you might enjoy both.
Disclosure: Please keep in mind that these activities are not suited for all dementia patients. It totally depends on the health of the patient, both mentally and physically. If you have questions than ask the psychologist connected to the nursery home for advice about what activities might be good for your friend or relative.