When a senior loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, it can be tough to keep them busy in meaningful ways. But it’s important to be persistent and keep trying. That’s because engaging in productive activities boosts self-esteem.
Adults with Alzheimer’s often feel diminished and discouraged about their inability to complete tasks they used to do independently. As their need for assistance increases, the senior may experience depression and a loss of interest in the world around them. You can help prevent or overcome that by structuring their days with productive activity.
For people with most forms of dementia, the positive feelings created by meaningful experiences linger long after memories of the activity itself are lost. If you aren’t sure how to get started planning more structured days, we have some ideas you will find useful.
Productive Activities for a Senior with Dementia
First, avoid childlike activities that may leave a senior feeling degraded. Children’s games and puzzles with bright colors and large pieces, for example, might seem like a good idea. In reality, they can actually be demeaning. Instead, offer activities and tasks that are genuinely productive.
It’s also important to focus on the process, not the outcome. By taking that approach, you can both find joy in the moment.
Here are some productive activities to help you plan a structured, weekly schedule for a senior with dementia:
- Music: The therapeutic value of music is well-documented. Singing along to music from happy times can evoke memories long forgotten for someone with dementia. They might be from childhood, young adult days, or married life. Try to track down songs and artists your senior loved one reacts positively to and create a playlist.
- Household chores: Contributing to the household can also help a senior feel more productive. Your family member can assist with chores that don’t require abstract thought, such as folding laundry, dusting, vacuuming, unpacking groceries, or sweeping the kitchen floor.
- Arts and crafts: Like music, art is another form of therapy for people of all ages. Completing simple art projects together, like painting a wooden picture frame or making a garden stepping stone, is great bonding time.
- Physical fitness: Engaging in physical activities, like chair yoga, walking, or stretching, can also leave the senior feeling accomplished. Exercise can help a senior with Alzheimer’s sleep better and be less inclined to wander.
- Reminiscence: Going back in time can allow an adult with memory loss to revisit happier days. Pull out old family photos and reminisce as you sort through them together. You could make copies of favorites and put together a scrapbook or organize them into albums.
- Pet care: Having an animal to love and care for can also make a senior with dementia feel needed. A dog, which needs to be fed, walked, and brushed, might be especially beneficial.
- Gardening: Caring for a raised bed vegetable garden or container flower garden is also peaceful and productive. Just make sure the flowers aren’t toxic if consumed. It’s not uncommon for an adult with dementia to put things in their mouth to taste. Check this list of poisonous flowers before purchasing.
- Nature: One of the most beneficial activities for people of all ages is spending time in nature. It can be as simple as bird-watching in your backyard or taking a nature hike at a local park. Most parks have accessible walking paths for those with mobility challenges. One note of caution is to invest in a GPS tracking device for the senior to wear in case you become separated.
As one of the Great Lakes region’s leading providers of specialized dementia care, Heritage Senior Communities are dedicated to helping seniors with a memory impairment enjoy productive days. We invite you to call the community nearest you to learn more about The Terrace, our dedicated dementia care units.
Since nutrition plays an essential role in overall wellness, it stands to reason that food choices may impact brain health, too. Researchers believe a cleaner, healthier diet may help brain health by warding off Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Consider the lifestyle of people living in the Blue Zones as evidence.
Blue Zones and Brain Health
Blue Zones are regions where people experience the longest, healthiest lives. They have lower rates of many life-limiting diseases, including heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Ikaria, Greece, is one example. Residents there are 75% less likely to develop dementia than their peers in the United States.
While people in Blue Zones are physically active on a daily basis, researchers believe diet might be the key to warding off disease. What do people in the Blue Zones eat that may be protecting brain health? Here’s what researchers say make up the core of a Blue Zone resident’s diet.
Blue Zone Residents’ Diet
- Mostly whole foods: Instead of a diet high in convenience foods or menus that alter the natural state of foods, people in the Blue Zones consume mostly whole foods. Fruits and vegetables make up the bulk of their diet. Healthy nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and cashews, are also staples.
- Less meat: Unlike traditional Western diets, people in Blue Zones eat very little meat. Most consume only two ounces of meat, which includes beef, pork, and chicken, no more than five times a month. Instead, Blue Zone residents eat fish in moderation, primarily sardines, cod, and anchovies.
- Limit eggs: Many healthy eating plans use eggs to replace meat as a protein source. Blue Zone guidelines, however, suggest consuming few eggs. If you do eat eggs, they should have omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 eggs are produced when flaxseed is added to the hens’ diets.
- Consume beans: Beans are considered a superfood in the Blue Zones. That’s because they tend to be low in calories while high in fiber and protein. Because they are so filling, beans can prevent you from overeating and gaining weight.
- Eat whole grains: Whole grain breads are best, as they contain fiber and other essentials. By contrast, breads and pastas that contain bleached white flour should be avoided. The body converts white flour into sugar, which results in spikes in insulin levels.
- Minimal sugar: Americans have a long-established love of sugar. Sometimes it’s from hidden sources, such as condiments, marinades, dried fruits, and yogurt. Sugar is a leading cause of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is linked to health problems, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.
- Avoid dairy: Blue Zone residents swap dairy with foods made from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. That helps them avoid potential problems with lactose while also reducing sugar and fat intake.
- Stay hydrated: One final tip garnered from Blue Zone diets is to stay hydrated. Blue Zone residents drink mostly water, but also rely on foods with a high water content. Common ones include berries, cucumber, leafy greens, celery, and melon.
As is true of any major lifestyle change, starting slowly and making gradual adjustments to your diet might lead to greater long-term success in the form of brain health.
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My aunt was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. She was able to remain in her own home for a while, but she moved in with my husband and I almost two years ago. We are her only remaining family members and are happy to take care of her.
Shortly after my aunt came to live with us, I left my job. We felt like it wasn’t safe for her to stay alone, and it was the best decision at the time. It’s gotten tougher to keep up with her recently as she’s started to wander from home. My husband and I are both sleep deprived and tired. We need to figure out a better way to do this so we don’t put our own health at risk.
Do you have any suggestions for us that don’t involve moving my aunt somewhere else? We aren’t ready for that.
Melissa in Grand Haven, MI
Care for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver
We hear this question so often from family members who are caring for a loved one. It’s especially difficult when the senior has Alzheimer’s disease. The challenges of caregiving for someone with a memory impairment are unique and oftentimes demanding. For many caregivers, the role feels overwhelming when their family member begins wandering.
Because an estimated six in ten adults with Alzheimer’s will wander, it’s a situation many families find themselves in. Caregivers often say it feels like their loved one can go days without sleeping. Since it sounds like you might feel this way, I do have some advice on decreasing the risk for wandering. If you can first manage that difficult behavior, it might be easier to practice healthy self-care.
- Structured days: People with memory loss often respond better to structured days. Experts recommend rising at the same time each morning, serving meals on a schedule, and having a consistent bedtime.
- Meaningful activity: Boredom is believed to be a potential risk for wandering. If you plan productive, engaging activities for your aunt, she might feel more satisfied and be less likely to wander. Arts and craft projects, housework help, or moderate fitness activities are other good options.
- Less evening stimulus: Try clustering your aunt’s outings and physical fitness to the early part of the day and wind down in the afternoon and evening. That may help promote sleep.
- Helpful technology: If you don’t already have one, it might give you peace of mind to install a home security system with door sensors. You might sleep easier knowing an alarm will sound if your aunt tries to leave. Also consider providing her with a GPS tracking pendant or watch. In the event she does wander, you’ll be able to locate her quickly and easily.
It’s also important to take care of yourself while you are caring for your aunt. Family members often think self-care is a luxury they don’t have time for. Remind yourself that your aunt likely needs your help for a long time to come and protecting your own health is vital.
- Connect with a support group: Whether it’s in person or online, support groups are a great outlet. Talking through your situation with peers who can relate will help. Other members might even recommend local caregiver resources you weren’t even aware of.
- Eat healthy: Nutrition is a non-negotiable for your aunt, as well as for you and your husband. Fortunately, meal delivery services make that a little easier. Consider trying one for several meals a week and supplement with your own cooking in between. Cooking meals in batches and freezing them also makes mealtime easier.
- Explore respite care options: Another recommendation is to explore local assisted living and memory care communities to see which ones offer respite. These short-term stays are designed to give caregivers a break. You could take advantage of this program once or twice a month to give you and your husband a break. Your aunt would receive the same care and support as a long-term resident of the community.
I hope these suggestions help make this time easier and healthier for your entire family!
Respite Care at Heritage
With communities throughout Michigan and one in Indiana, Heritage is a leading provider of care for adults with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. That includes respite services. Call the Heritage community nearest you to learn more today!
With Father’s Day getting closer, I’ve been searching for a unique gift for my dad. He’s a senior who’s been living on his own since my mom passed three years ago.
In the past, several generations of our family have planned an outing for dad. We’ve done everything from attending a Detroit Tigers game to chartering a fishing boat on Lake Michigan. With the lingering concerns about the coronavirus, we’ve decided against an excursion. Even though he’s fully vaccinated, my dad is still nervous about potentially being exposed to the virus.
Unlike me, my dad has always liked tinkering around with tech gadgets. So, I’m thinking of something along those lines. What tech products do seniors you work with seem to enjoy? Any suggestions are appreciated!
Wendy in Saline, MI
Tech Gifts for a Senior Dad or Grandfather
Senior dads can be tough to buy for under the best of circumstances! And I think your question could apply to any holiday we celebrate amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all had to do a lot of adapting in the past year.
Since you mentioned your father likes gadgets and tech products, I do have some suggestions I’ve noticed are popular around our communities. Hopefully one of the following might give you an idea for your dad this year:
This may be the ultimate Father’s Day gift for a dad of any age! Drone prices have decreased so they might make an affordable present for your father. The two of you could take it to a local park or lake to view wildlife. One caveat is to make sure you read about local laws and restrictions. While some drones are exempt from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, you’ll want to review the FAA’s Getting Started page before making a purchase.
- Sanitizer for a smartphone
Since you mentioned your dad is understandably anxious about being exposed to COVID-19, another gift idea is a smartphone sanitizer. Cell phones can harbor viruses and bacteria of all kinds if they aren’t cleaned often. These small sanitizing units utilize UV-C bulbs to kill up to 99.9% of all germs. Some even have a built-in universal charger to make it easier to use.
While many believe it to be a cliché, it’s actually true that older adults tend to consume more weather-related media. In fact, seniors make up half the viewers of The Weather Channel. If your father falls into this category, he might like to receive his own home weather station. They are available with a range of features and at a variety of price points. Some even have large-print displays to make it easier on older eyes. This Popular Mechanics review of the top selling weather stations may help you find a quality product at an affordable price.
Many people experience vision changes as they age. Some can contribute to falls, especially in the bathroom. As most adult children know, falls are the leading cause of injury among seniors. That’s why an LED showerhead attachment might make a useful gift. These gadgets provide enhanced lighting while a senior is showering or getting in and out of the tub. They are inexpensive and easy to install.
I hope these suggestions help, and that you and your dad have a safe, enjoyable Father’s Day!
Heritage Senior Communities Respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic
Heritage communities are making every effort to protect residents, staff, and visitors from the coronavirus. Our policies are based on a combination of CDC guidelines and information from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services MI Safe Start Map. You can read more about it here!