Living with Dementia: Activities That Can Help

By Colleen O’day

Living with dementia can be a challenge. This is true for the individual enduring this journey—and for the caregivers providing support. Since everyone is unique, finding the right activities and providing appropriate support is key. More importantly, it’s essential to focus not on the disease, but on the person: who they were, who they are, and who they are becoming.

Connecting to the Past

Since long-term memory may remain intact longer than short-term memory, it’s helpful to tap into pleasant experiences and hobbies an individual previously enjoyed. Offering life-review activities—like looking at old pictures, recalling key events, and playing favorite tunes—often support recall. In fact, music  not only helps individuals connect with the past, but can also be a means of nonverbal communication with caregivers, making it an ideal stimulus for persons with dementia.

However, it’s important to remember that some memories may be unpleasant—even traumatic. Addressing the mental health needs of individuals is recommended by Dr. Tonya Davis, a core faculty member in the online Masters in Counseling program from The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Counseling can play an important role both in this context and in dealing with such a difficult diagnosis. Dr. Davis highlighted the importance of such support: “For someone who may have just received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, imagine the difficulty of grasping this new information and all that it might mean for the patient and family alike. Psychoeducation provided alongside the various aspects of the counseling process can make room for emotional and mental support as clients and their families work to make sense of the diagnosis.” Dr. Davis says that by providing the right support, counselors can equip and empower clients and their families with the tools and resources needed to “maintain homeostasis and experience forward movement.”

Adapting to the Present

Having a sense of purpose and being able to engage with others are important to your loved one’s well-being. However, changes in cognition may impact the types of activities they can participate in. If that’s the case, you’ll need to adapt accordingly to meet their needs. AARP provides some general guidelines about how to do it:

Maintaining Healthy Habits

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Physical activity can minimize stress and support overall health, and mental activity may impact cognitive impairment. The Alzheimer’s Association provides key recommendations for those who have a dementia diagnosis.

When choosing physical activities, select those that are:

In terms of mental exercise, the Alzheimer’s Association encourages activities that provide a mental challenge, including:

Although living with dementia is difficult for everyone involved, choosing the right activities for the individual and getting needed support can help. Those caring for loved ones with dementia can implement these activities to improve quality of life for their family member. Combined with counseling, these activities can open the door for a more comfortable life for those with dementia.

 Author Bio: Colleen O’Day is a marketing manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.’s social work, mental health, and education programs.