Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia? If you do, you’ve probably seen them at their senior center doing dementia activities like simple matching or stacking games. Or come to visit them at their residence, and found them sitting in a circle and clapping while someone plays folk songs on a guitar.
And that might have made you wonder – What’s up with that? Why are they wasting Dad or Grandma’s time with activities my 4-year-old would love? It’s very likely that you felt almost insulted for your loved one, for the person who was once so capable and has seemingly been reduced to child’s play.
That’s a totally understandable reaction. And you wouldn’t be alone if that’s how you felt. It’s a hard thing to see. But sometimes, understanding why these dementia activities are so important can take the sting out of them.
So let’s see.
1. Dementia activities slow down the slide.
The brain is like any other muscle: the more you use it, the better shape it’s in. While there is (as of yet) no cure for dementia, studies show that the more dementia patients engage their brains – at whatever cognitive level they are – the more their brains function at the optimum level that they can. In other words, there is no way to completely stop the downward spiral of dementia, activities that engage the brain can at least slow it down.
2. They give a sense of purpose.
To us, simple activities like matching shapes, threading yarn through holes and stacking cups seem rather pointless. But to a senior who’s in cognitive decline, anything they can accomplish gives them a sense of satisfaction. This goes for the earlier stages of dementia, too; if your loved one is still living at home, let them do as much independently as they can, with as little interference from you as possible.
3. They help offer structure.
One of the things dementia patients need most is predictability. They need to know what’s going to be happening each day. When you visit at the same time, when activities are scheduled in a pattern, that gives them a sense of structure and security.
4. Dementia activities reduce aggression.
When dementia patients are left with nothing to do for too long, they become agitated and disoriented because they cannot express their feelings and thoughts. That’s when the yelling, the shouting and the aggressive behaviors begin. Keeping your loved one busy – even with a busy bag or busy blanket – will eliminate the need to fidget and help them stay calm and contented for longer periods of time.
5. Dementia activities keep your loved one safe.
Dementia patients who aren’t wheelchair bound have a real tendency to wander. Sometimes it’s just around the house or down the hall; other times, they can wander quite far. Which is dangerous. The more they have something purposeful to do, though, the less they’ll feel the need to wander.
So even though all those activities might seem unnecessary to you – for your loved one with dementia, activities can make a huge difference in their quality of life.