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Staying Engaged with Your Loved One with Dementia

It is hard enough battling the daily personal and professional challenges presented by an uncontrolled virus let alone doing so while caring for a loved one with dementia at home. Yet this is the situation many of you find yourself in currently.

While planned activities are an important part of any day for someone with dementia, they are even more important since the world now has significant physical restrictions as well. Critical to addressing these limitations is developing additional ways of creatively engaging your loved ones with dementia.

This piece will provide a few suggestions for doing just that. While these ideas may be ones you have thought of or even tried before, perhaps the opportunity or timing wasn’t right. I encourage you to try them again with a fresh perspective or perhaps modify one of these ideas in the way that will work for you in your situation.

In addition to creating joyous and meaningful moments in a time such as this, another primary goal is to come away from these engagements with a tangible end product or result (no matter what form or shape it takes) that you and your loved one can revisit over time. While that wouldn’t normally be a goal in working with someone with dementia, in a period such as this, that end product/result can offer lasting memories helping to reduce the lingering negative thoughts of the virus.

With that in mind, here are a few ideas you may want to try:

1. Ongoing Art Project

If your loved one with dementia enjoys creative projects, initiate an art project with them. For example, a client’s family member recently shared with us a video of a beautiful mural that she and our client and caregiver all worked on together. The project certainly doesn’t have to be that elaborate; it can even be as easy as pulling together some leftover materials you have lying around your home. Items around the house such as spare buttons, beads, or even coins could be used in a creative way. Making collages using cut out pictures from old magazines is another great way of stimulating the thoughts of a person with dementia with unlimited potential.

2. Written Piece

Depending on your loved one’s stage of dementia, creating some kind of written piece together is a great activity. Whether this piece is a mini life history or some type of creative story for which you can assist them, the results of this writing journey can be truly meaningful. Often loved ones of those with dementia regret that they never took the time to capture the individual’s thoughts while they were still together. Create writing sessions as part of the day to help add structure and purpose.

3. Using Technology to Create a Moment in Time Video Remembrance

Technology is one of the few major tools we have right now allowing us to continue to both safely move forward and maintain our lives personally and professionally. I encourage you to take advantage of that by filming your loved one during this time. Whether that means using your cell phone to create a series of video clips that can be “woven” together at some later point or pulling out an old video camera that has been stuck in the corner of the closet for years. Make it work for you.

4. Tactile and Aromatherapy for Advanced Dementia Loved Ones

Most of the activities above are geared toward individuals at an earlier or more moderate stage of dementia. Unfortunately, these will not, in many cases, apply to those in the later stages of the disease. For these individuals, it makes most sense to appeal to the five senses, particularly smell and most especially touch. Using various essential oils can create pleasing aromas; or scented wax melts/cubes that don’t require a flame can also offer the reminiscing smells of the past like baking an apple or pumpkin pie or having the smell of roses outdoors. Even more basic is creating a tactile or sensory kit which can provide different textures and sensations. Items such as sandpaper, a stress ball, a pinecone (or substitute), any item filled with gel, leaves leftover from the fall, cotton balls, etc. Place them all in a bag and pull items out one at a time and use as a point of discussion if possible or just gauge the reaction of your loved one.

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