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Adapting activities for those with memory loss

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Winter can be an isolating time of year and that can be especially true for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Venturing out into the cold weather and dealing with shorter days limits the options of activities that stimulate the mind. But between indoor activities and adapting some outdoor ones, you can create engaging entertainment for all. (See an infographic from the Smith Alzheimer’s Center.) 

Remember, while many of these activities aim to use older memories that may still be active, don’t press someone if they remember a certain moment, person or song. The goal is to find activities that bring joy and exercise the body and brain. Here are a few ideas to stay active.

An indoor green thumb

Bring the outdoors inside by creating a small indoor garden. Planting and tending to easy-to-care-for houseplants can provide sensory stimulation and a sense of accomplishment. If you’re looking for specific plants that go beyond caring for flowers or succulents, herbs like basil or mint provide aromatherapy benefits.

Listen to the music

The benefits of music for dementia patients are well-documented. Create a playlist of their favorite music from childhood or when they were a young adult – you could even recreate a positive moment from their past like songs played at their wedding, high school prom, or other event. Music therapy has been shown to improve mood, verbal communication, reduce anxiety, and more. Encourage singing and dancing!

Get up and exercise

Cold and gray days can take a toll on mood, no matter who you are. Even a small amount of exercise can help lift spirits while providing positive benefits for brain health – as little as 120-150 minutes a week can make a difference. That exercise could include chair yoga, using resistance bands or stretching bands, a stationary bike, or even simple tasks like dusting or sweeping. Search for videos online to provide a good reference or find out more using the Smith Alzheimer’s Center’s resource guide.

Van Gogh with it

The freedom of expression that art provides makes this activity accessible for nearly everyone. The structure of a coloring book or a step-by-step art project helps provide direction, but explore if working with an empty canvas and a prompt (i.e. draw and color your favorite season) is beneficial, too. Art that has a tactile feel, like clay, can be a welcome activity that allows creativity to flow in new ways.

Child’s play

While some people with dementia will eagerly take a coloring book and be content, some activities may be seen as “childish” by others. However, they may view the activity in a different light when doing it with a grandchild. It can be a chance for them to work together, make the person with memory loss feel helpful, and provide positive social interaction.

Game night

Whether it’s dominoes, card games, puzzles or more, games can be a great way to stimulate the brain. Finding the appropriate level of activity is important here, such as puzzles that are large enough to see and don’t have too many pieces. Don’t forget the age-old favorite of bingo.

Team up

Finding appropriate ways for a person with memory loss to help around the house for an upcoming holiday or event can give them direction and purpose. Whether that’s putting up decorations for the next holiday, helping bake a treat or assisting with another holiday tradition, it can help not only with completing needed tasks, but could also unlock positive memories.

Lastly, don’t feel like you need to constantly invent new activities. If you find an activity they enjoy, chances are they will enjoy that activity the next day, too. However, be aware that a person’s executive function may change and activities may need to be updated based on their ability.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s and the Smith Alzheimer’s Center at SIU Medicine.

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