We all like to keep our minds occupied and focused on something we enjoy doing, and people with dementia are no different.
If you care for a loved one with dementia, you’ll know that boredom is the enemy. Without enough to do, people with dementia can become depressed, lonely and start behaving in a distressing way. So how can you keep your loved one occupied and fulfilled, especially if the onset of dementia has made former hobbies too tricky to manage?
Below are five helpful tips from the Live Better With Dementia website, a great resource which is packed with advice, information and specialist products to help alleviate the effects of dementia and make life better for those with dementia and those who care for them.
Play a game: Puzzles and games can be very absorbing. Jigsaw puzzles are useful because some are harder than others, depending on how many pieces they have, so you can tailor them to the abilities of the person you’re caring for. Choose puzzles that have an interesting picture – perhaps one that will stir happy memories – and are made from strong, durable materials (plastic rather than cardboard). Other games, such as dominoes and bingo or rolling dice games, can also be great fun.
Puzzles exercise both sides of the brain simultaneously, allowing the brain to move from what’s known as the Beta state (the wakeful mind) into an Alpha state, which is the same mental state you experience when you’re dreaming. This means that puzzles can have a meditative and therapeutic effect on the brain.
This, in turn, has an effect on general health, lowering breathing rate, slowing the heart rate and reducing blood pressure. All of this is particularly beneficial to a person with dementia especially if they’re feeling restless or agitated. Completing puzzles requires their full concentration and so provides a focus for excess energy.
Be creative: Your loved one might never have been an ‘arty’ person, but don’t let that put you off trying some simple art and craft activities with them. Art projects have many benefits for people with dementia, they can also restore dignity, ease anxiety and foster a sense of control which helps them to feel calmer and happier. Research suggests that artistic ability is often preserved in spite of the degeneration of the brain and the loss of day-to-day memory.
Accentuate the positive: Try not to dwell on what your loved one can’t do. Instead, focus on what might still be possible. This could mean scaling down your expectations and using your imagination, but it could be well worth the effort. Don’t underestimate the satisfaction that can be brought from simply being able to complete a task.
Even household chores such as folding laundry or setting a table can be a source of achievement and absorption. People with dementia don’t always sit staring into space when they’re bored. Other signs of boredom include sleeping more during the day or seeming agitated and restless, maybe pacing around the house or walking up and down stairs.
Keep moving: A gentle walk outdoors or even seated exercises can be good. While it may seem contradictory, regular exercise at an appropriate level can actually help boost energy, and reduce daytime tiredness. Try using descriptive themes or imagery to encourage movement. For example, ‘move your legs like bicycle’ or ‘reach for the stars with each hand’.
Fuel the senses: The brain is stimulated by all five senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. Try to think of activities which might stimulate each or all of these senses and perhaps spark particular memories that might lead to a conversation. It could be the scent of a favourite perfume, the taste of a particular food or drink or a certain kind of music. Stroking a soft toy or a ‘therapeutic pet’ can also have a remarkably calming effect, especially for people who used to keep pets but can no longer manage the real thing.
Therapeutic pets are designed to look and feel like the real thing and even simulate the gentle breathing of a pet puppy, cat or kitten. Several types of therapeutic pet, representing different breeds, are available from the Live Better With Dementia website and other outlets.