What comes to mind when you think about activities for people who have Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia? Perhaps you imagine a group of people doing light exercises in their chairs, or watching TV programmes together. Sure, these are ways to provide activities, but there are so many more possibilities out there. As Alzheimer’s carers we need to start thinking outside of the box, because there are really important reasons to provide meaningful activities.
Meaningful activities are those that engage the person’s attention and connect with their interests. As an example, I recently heard of a local care home taking some of its residents to an RAF air show. All the residents that made the trip had a connection to the armed forces, so not only was it a great and exciting day out, but it also brought back some happy memories. Many sufferers of Alzheimer’s are able to recall their distant past for some time after their short term memory is affected. On returning to the home, the manager stated that she’d never seen so many smiles and that the residents were still talking about the trip the next day.
Too often, people with Alzheimer’s, whether they’re at home, in assisted living or a care home, are under-stimulated and unengaged in life. They might half-heartedly leaf through a magazine that they’re not interested in or have a programme on the TV that their caregiver chose. As a society, it’s down to us to change this approach and start putting real thought into activities our loved ones can still draw a great deal of enjoyment from.
Here’s eight reasons why it’s important to offer a variety of meaningful activities for people living with Alzheimer’s:
* Mental Stimulation
Activities that engage the brain are good for all of us, and all the more for people who are living with dementia. Research has suggested that a structured activity program can actually slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s and improve cognitive function immediately and up to three months following the activity program.
* Physical Activity and General Health
Most activity programs usually involve some sort of physical movement, which will benefit the body and the brain. Remaining physically active can prevent other health problems from occurring as well as maintaining mobility and ability to function daily. Research on physical exercise for those diagnosed with dementia has demonstrated significantly improved cognitive function.
* Social Interaction
Activities facilitate socialization, which is an important aspect of mental health. If people don’t have the opportunity to interact socially with each other it can lead them to feel lonely, isolated or depressed.
* Improved sleep habits
An active and fulfilling day will lead to an improved sleep at night for your loved one. If they sit in a chair all day and don’t participate in any type of activity, they’ll likely fall asleep several times throughout the day, which affects their quality of sleep at night. Providing activities that engage and have meaning for the individual, helps to minimize day time naps and encourage a better night of sleep instead. A better night’s sleep has numerous proven benefits.
*Improvement in self-esteem
Self-esteem, or how people feel about themselves, can often take a beating when someone has Alzheimer’s. Particularly in the early stages when people are aware that they are having memory problems. Feelings of incompetence, depression and anxiety are common. Offering someone an activity can be encouraging to them if they are given something to do where they can experience success and enjoyment. If you fill their days with joy, it leaves little room to focus on sadness.
* Decrease depression and anxiety
Engaging people with Alzheimer’s in activities can significantly reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Multiple studies have shown an improvement in depression and anxiety through providing a structured activity program. Some have even shown that the improvement can last for up to six months after the study concludes.
*Minimize behavioural challenges
People with Alzheimer’s can begin to display challenging behaviours such as shadowing, repetitive questioning, agitation and argumentative interactions. These behaviours can be significantly reduced when activities that are of interest and at the right skill level are offered to people. Many studies have shown similar benefits of meaningful activities.
You need to learn your own methods for coping with the changes in behaviour from your family member. If your loved one is actively engaged, you will spend less time responding to problematic behaviours and more time enjoying positive interactions with your family member.