Article by Monica Heltemes, Occupational Therapist

Caregivers often struggle to come up with appropriate activities for the person with Alzheimer’s or other form of dementia. Dementia causes memory loss, decreased problem solving, concrete- thinking, and less desire to do activities.  All can lead to the person becoming inactive.  Often the desire to do activities is less because the person does not want to risk being frustrated or embarrassed when he tries to do something.  But with some guidance from the caregiver, the person can be successful in doing things.
Some keys to keep in mind include: current cognitive ability, past interests, and current routines. As cognitive  abilities start to change, the person with Alzheimer’s may need simpler games or tasks to do.As they continue to progress, matching and sorting tasks are appropriate.  At the later stages, the person is only able to attune to the senses. So ideas of activities at the different stages includes:  a game of Old Maid; sorting socks or large buttons; giving a hand massage.  Music, touch, and movement are responded to at all stages of the disease.

Using life history and past interests can help tap into long-term memories that last long into the disease process. Set up a secretary with “letters to fold” and envelopes “to stuff”. Note that you might have to set this up only with one of these steps at a time. Other examples are, stirring the batter for a former homemaker and providing postcards for an avid traveler.

Last, daily routine tasks can keep the person with dementia engaged. Build in things the person CAN still do, whether self-care tasks or household duties. Examples include:  putting on their clothes, once the caregiver has picked out what is appropriate for the day; setting the forks on the table for the meal, once the forks are set out and direction have been given; checking the mail when directed and supervised. Incorporating things the person can do into the daily routine builds structure and order for the person with dementia, as well as provides pride and joy in the things he or she can do.

“Doing things” is still possible for persons with dementia – with the help of caregivers. Look to the things around you, now and from the past, as sources of inspiration to find activities that can meet the current needs of the person with dementia that you care for.

Monica Heltemes, Occupational Therapist

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