Helping Alzheimer’s Patients with Meaningful Activities

Often family, friends and caregivers of Alzheimer’s sufferers need help in choosing and involving patients in activities that can improve both the patient and the caregiver’s quality of life.

Research shows activities structured individually to each person’s past interests can greatly reduce stress and improve the quality of life for family and caregivers.

Frustration, agitation, depression and anger are some of the most bothersome symptoms exhibited by patients. Wandering, a common behavior in mid-stage and advanced Alzheimer’s also can be minimized by involvement in meaningful activities. Having a steady routine will also instill a sense of stability.

In addition to the need for structure, routine and individualized activities, patients also need “no-fail” activities. Because of the loss of cognitive abilities failure becomes a too often occurrence in the patient’s everyday life. “No fail” activities boost self-esteem and give a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

Activities will be most successful when the individual’s interests and abilities are considered. Take a history of the patient’s life and have them tell you as much as they can about their interests, hobbies, and desires. Look through old photo albums and mementoes. Just because a person hasn’t involved themselves in an activity they once loved in recent years doesn’t mean that interest can’t be rekindled. Encourage family members and friends to pick out activities in which they would also enjoy participating.

Although some ideas for activities may sound simple, for example folding clothes or dusting furniture, they do provide a connection with the everyday activities of life Alzheimer’s sufferers sometimes feel cut off from.

The level of cognitive functioning should also be considered when planning activities. Pay attention to which activities give enjoyment and which cause frustration. Always be willing to adjust to reactions and don’t hold the patient accountable if an activity is not completed. Provide lots of praise. You can never be too positive and encouraging!

Understanding, compassion, and patience are what is most needed in interactions with Alzheimer sufferers.

Music is one of the best, most effective ways to create a calm, soothing environment. Along with the soothing effect of simply listening, participation also provides an opportunity for patients with musical or vocal skills to “show off” and boost their sense of worth and provide enjoyment to listeners. It’s not uncommon for patients who played piano much of their lives to be able to play entire songs flawlessly, yet not remember what they had for breakfast or to tie their shoelaces.

One-to-one time is essential in creating a sense of connection. Too often, well-meaning family and caregivers get so busy with the activities of daily living that they forget that a heart to heart talk is often just what the patient needs. Encourage talking with active listening, but never pressure the patient to talk about subjects that might cause distress. Ask open-ended questions and be prepared to accept whatever the answer is. Never, ever argue even though you may know incorrect information is being given.

Light exercise, especially outdoors, should be part of any plan of activities. Sun exposure, for only 15 minutes a day, can help a patient sleep better at night, and also increases the absorption of Vitamin D, and strengthening of the bones. If the patient is confined to an assisted living facility or other environment, see that some outdoor activity, even if only short walks, is planned and carried out.

Reminiscing can be fun for patients and caregivers alike. Keep in mind, memories may not be entirely accurate, but again never argue, but simply listen and encourage the patient to recall as much detail as possible by asking questions. Family movies and photographs can help jog a patient’s memory and encourage the conversation.

The benefits of pet therapy have been proven and nowhere are those benefits better applied than with Alzheimer’s patients. There is no pressure to perform or remember or interact mentally, but only to experience the love and affection animals give so freely.

Gardening is another simple, effective and meaningful activity. Gardens can help patients feel connected to nature and to life, whether they can actively participate in the preparation and cultivation of the garden or simply be observers of the wonders of nature. Exposure to nature’s sights, sounds, smells and physical sensations can be noticeably beneficial to a patient’s spiritual, psychological, social and physical health. The idea is to engage the senses and provide a connection to the creation and growth of living things.

Often it’s hard to know just how to react and interact with Alzheimer’s patients. With a little knowledge, consistent practice, and lots of patience, daily life for the patient and caregiver can improve. Just remember to keep activities simple, to provide a routine, and to individualize the activities according to the patient’s interest and abilities. You and the Alzheimer’s patient will be rewarded for your efforts.

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