In Part 1 of this two-part post I recently shared a question sent to me from a Twitter follower, @Jason_Bournesm, whose grandfather has Alzheimer's disease. Jason wanted ideas for how to help his grandfather. Here is Part 2 - more ideas for how to interact with your loved ones when they have Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia:
- Use familiar photos. Jason shared that he was thinking of creating a special photo album for his grandparents. Great idea! Meaningful family photos or pictures of home or pets may stir memories. Prevent confusion or frustration by keeping it simple - one or two photos per page. If they aren't able to connect with personal photos (or if inability to recognize people in the photos is frustrating and produces feelings of failure) instead focus on pleasant pictures of nature, beautiful places, animals and calming colors.
- Watch TV and videos wisely. Complicated TV shows or videos your loved ones used to love may no longer be enjoyable. My Dad used to love watching "Law and Order" and other crime or mystery shows. He enjoyed figuring out the plots. Now he isn't able to stay focused and the shows frustrate him. But watching old movies or TV shows with simple plots, movie musicals and sports are still a favorite pastime for him. And use your computer - YouTube has great old videos of Big Band music!
- Create multi-sensory experiences. When cognitive abilities are challenged, stimulating the senses can be helpful if not overdone. Integrate hearing, smelling, taste, touch and visuals to stimulate the memory. For example, the scent of an apple pie baking in the oven can bring memories of mother's cooking - capitalize on that by looking at photos of your loved ones' family; give them apples to feel in their hands; sing or listen to the song, Apple Blossom Time by the Andrews Sisters; finally - taste the pie! Tip: My friends at Bi-folkal Productions do an amazing job creating multi-sensory kits.
- Involve furry friends. Jason told me his grandfather loves his puppy. Our pets or other animals can be an amazing balm to someone with dementia. The warmth and fun of an animal can lower blood pressure and offer other health benefits. My Dad's constant companion is his service dog, Mr. Jackson. Jackson not only helps keep Dad safe, he helps him stay calm, focused and in the current moment. He's also a great conversation starter, so if you have trouble thinking of what to talk about - bring a pet along (unless, of course, your loved one is afraid of or doesn't like animals.)
- Do, do, do. As cognitive abilities are weakened by Alzheimer's or other dementias, it can get harder for people to talk, read or think through things. This can create boredom and depression. Often, it's helpful to be active in other ways - take a walk, water flowers, toss a ball back and forth, brush a pet, wash dishes, fold laundry, do simple exercises ... anything active and familiar. Less talking and more shared experiences can be a good thing. Added bonus: research indicates physical activity is good for the brain as well as the rest of the body - so keep `em moving!
- Laugh. Often. Laughter is good for your health, producing lovely endorphins that make us feel good. Humor can ease tensions, diffuse frustration and create a connection between you and your loved one. When my Dad feels anxious about what is happening around him or what the plans are for the day, I can always crack a joke, or start dancing crazily with him, or sing and solicit a smile from him. Mainly I laugh - it's contagious and even if he doesn't "get" the joke, he laughs at and with me. Works every time, and he keeps his sense of humor sharpened. Humor is a great way to keep the brain stimulated also - so keep those jokes coming. Even simple knock-knock jokes make you think!
- Connect with Nature. Those with dementia often remind me to stop and smell the roses. Find ways for your loved one to get a good dose of nature every day. Taking a nature walk doesn't have to be in a park or garden - you can comment on your neighbors' yards as you walk by on the sidewalk! Simply planting some seeds and watching them grow is another great activity. Enjoying a gorgeous sunset together doesn't really require a lot of words - just be together and take in the beauty of nature - it's good for the mind, body and soul.
Photo Credit: Amy Goyer