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Find Joy in Caring for Your Parent with Dementia

Grandson Playing Video Games with His Grandfather

When caring for a parent with dementia, you know that the days can become physically and emotionally draining. When all you want for them is to be safe and comfortable, you may feel helpless and powerless in watching how dementia affects them. The good news is you can find happiness in your caregiving journey and make the most of the time you can still spend with your loved one.

To create more meaning in an otherwise “normal” day, try to find some exciting activities you think your loved one would enjoy. The best way to start brainstorming is taking inventory of their past and current interests and hobbies. Examples might include gardening, cooking, playing or watching sports, reading, fishing, photography, movies, crafting, or listening to or playing music.

The following simple activities can improve the quality of life for both of you, ease a bit of your stress, and bring you closer together.

Go for walks

As their mobility levels change, it can be difficult for seniors to enjoy physical activities. Daily walks are an excellent way for them to get some fresh air and maintain their mobility. If the weather isn’t great, consider taking a stroll around the local indoor mall or trying gentle chair exercises.

Prepare a meal or bake something

Think of something you know your loved one likes. Focus the food preparation process with an eye toward what they can still assist with and do. This focuses on their sense of purpose and usefulness and can boost their mood and attitude. Examples of this involvement might be washing fruits and vegetables, decorating cupcakes, or making sandwiches. The extent to which they can be involved will depend very much on their abilities and their particular stage of the disease. It’s important to ensure the activity is manageable and safe.

Eat out together

Some people with dementia may still enjoy going to their old favorite restaurant or diner. Be sure to choose the restaurant wisely and if it makes sense inform the staff about the situation. No need to share too many details, just politely ask to ignore any odd or unexpected behavior. A suitable restaurant may be casual style with easy access and a comfortable booth or table—ideally close to a bathroom. Some restaurants in your area may even be certified as dementia-friendly so you may want to investigate that ahead of time. If this is not possible, you can still set up a nice table at home to recreate the feel of your loved one’s favorite place.

Turn up the music

According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, music can calm agitated people, lighten their mood, and even help with coordination, since the motor center of our brains can respond automatically to sound. Find something from your loved one’s period of life. If it’s possible, encourage them to dance or even shuffle around a bit with you or better yet sing along a little.

Do household chores together

While this might not sound like a lot of fun, you likely have to do chores while caring for your parent with dementia and involving them in the activity could help them feel satisfaction from being able to accomplish something and from knowing they were able to help you. Think of something easy like folding small towels.

Get crafty

Arts and crafts such as painting, drawing or knitting are ways to express feelings safely and with creativity. Encourage using bold, bright colors on big surfaces. Make something together that you can keep forever. Make sure you keep the activity simple, light-hearted and fuss-free—the goal is to have fun.

Watch an old movie together

Westerns, great love stories, or musicals? Think of what movies your loved one used to enjoy. Stream something online and add some movie snacks. If you’d like, you can also watch an old family video together. Be sure you press pause every now and then to discuss the contents of the show and perhaps other details as necessary. Show your own emotions so your loved one feels welcome to express themselves as well.

Solve a puzzle

Pick an easy puzzle with large, tactile pieces. Wooden, color, or shape puzzles help with matching and are fail-safe. You can also make a personalized DIY puzzle. Print a copy of a favorite family photo or an image your loved one likes and cut it into puzzle-shaped pieces.

Do some gardening

Your loved one might not be able to garden independently anymore, but they may be able to do some aspects of the gardening process with your help and direction. If it’s not possible, you can take a few pots with seeds inside to water and tend to them together. Alternatively, your loved one might enjoy outings to a local botanical garden or a park.

Read together

This activity can help engage your loved one and exercise the brain. The book can be any kind from a children’s book your loved one used to read to you or a book they used to enjoy. Or even the newspaper.

Overall, trying to make activities meaningful, rather than choosing ones aimed at simply passing time may improve your loved one’s general mood—and yours, too. Try to encourage hobbies that they seem to enjoy at the moment. Let them help you with small tasks because when they believe they are making a valuable contribution, it adds to your loved one’s general happiness and helps them feel more grounded.

Some Things to Bear in Mind

Make sure you don’t force your loved one to do an activity if they are tired or are not interested. Avoid monitoring and supervising the activity, hurrying them, or getting tense or bossy. Don’t point out mistakes or take control. Remember, the idea is to have fun and make memories while caring for your parent with dementia.

Give Your Loved one a chance to lead their best life with Embrace

At Open Arms, we have a one-of-a-kind memory care program called Embrace, which enables your loved one to live at home while staying safe and leading an engaging life. Every client’s situation and needs are unique. Therefore, the program provides them opportunities to enjoy activities and engagements that have previously brought joy in their lives.

Each member of our team is prepared, informed, and supported, and our program incorporates the latest and most innovative research on memory care, dementia care models, program leadership and caregiver training.

Find out more about our Embrace program or schedule a free 30-minute virtual consultation with our Memory Care Program Director, Scott Tolan.

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