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Keep loved ones active through dementia

Senior Moments

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POSTED: November 5, 2017 11:07 a.m.
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Rich DeLong is the executive director of Station Exchange Senior Care in Richmond Hill.

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One of the challenging aspects of living with a loved one who has dementia is coming up with activities that are engaging, fun and easy. Keeping active through dementia is important for many reasons. Being happily engaged in a satisfying activity reduces agitation, anxiety, depression and anger.

It may even reduce what many in our field call "sundowners syndrome" (challenging behaviors during the early evening hours). Staying engaged throughout the day may also reduce the need for certain medications related to anxiety and aggression. Lastly, engaging activities may help make the day more pleasant for both the care giver and care receiver.

The key to engaging activities is to keep them safe, simple and fun. There are no losers in these games, just winners. The following ideas for activities are tried-and-true. Some replicate chores that we all have performed at one point in our lives and others will stimulate fond memories of family — and even help your loved-one feel like she is still a vital and productive member of society.

There are few rules for these games. Use the "KISS" principle — keep it simple. Use easy words and only one direction at a time. Too many steps will result in frustration. Participate in the activity with your loved one and use positive words of praise. Avoid any corrective actions or statements which will only demotivate participants. Short time periods of activity are always better. Ten to 20 minutes is usually a good amount of time.

Every person is different, so it may take some trial and error to find activities that are appealing. As always, avoid sharp objects and only use items that will be safe for your loved one. If your loved one likes to put objects in his or her mouth, you will want to use larger items.

Try these activities and let me know if they work for you. Tell me if you have an activity that I can share with others.

• Ever wonder what to do with all those extra socks you accumulate over time. Try matching them up with your loved one. You can match by size, color or patterns, but remember, only one direction at a time. Folding towels works well, too. Use small hand towels as they are easy to fold. Don’t worry about how well the towels are folded. Instead focus on the act of contributing to the household.

• Create a memory box with your mom. Any box will do. Fill it up with special items related to her past work or hobbies. For example, if she enjoyed cooking, you may want to place such things as a measuring spoon, spatula, whisk and other items from the kitchen. You can pull them out and talk about them over and over again.

• Before you recycle those old magazines, use them for cutting out pictures of interest. You can even make a scrapbook of neat pictures that will spawn conversation and promote comfort.

• You don’t have to be a great singer to enjoy sing-a-longs with your dad. My father loved to sing patriotic songs when he was young. Songs and hymns are very familiar with our older generation and can bring much joy to their day. I’m always amazed when I see someone, who cannot put words together to form a sentence, sing the entire first verse of "My Country Tis of Thee" without the words in front of them.

• This last activity is pretty cool. Take a family picture, laminate it and cut it into four to six large pieces to create a puzzle. Smiles are galore when the puzzle is finished, and you may also hear a good story my friends.

Call DeLong at 912-531-7867 or email SeniorMomentsWithRich@gmail.com.

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