Creating Engaging Activities for a Senior with Dementia

Creating Engaging Activities for a Senior with Dementia

Being the family caregiver for a spouse or parent who has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia can present many new challenges. From safety and security to quality of life, loved ones often struggle for solutions. One is figuring out how to help the older adult live their most meaningful life.

If you are new to caregiving or just looking for some new ideas, we hope this information will be useful.

What to Remember When Planning Activities

As you begin creating a list of activities a loved one with dementia might enjoy, keep a few safety tips in mind:

  • Exercise caution in public places: Large crowds can increase agitation for people with Alzheimer’s. They can also put you and your loved one at greater risk for being separated. You might want to invest in a GPS tracking watch or device just in case the worst happens and your family member wanders from you.
  • Consider best and worst times: Most caregivers get to know when their loved one is usually at their best and when they struggle most. Working around those times can help. For example, restricting activities to the early hours of the day can help prevent evening wandering and agitation if your family member experiences Sundowner’s syndrome.
  • Plan snack and hydration breaks: People with Alzheimer’s sometimes fail to recognize thirst and hunger. It can increase their risk for dehydration, especially on hot days. Keep water with you on outings and remind your senior loved one to drink frequently. The same is true of snacks and meals. Pack a lunch with foods you know your family member can easily consume.

Activities to Enjoy with Loved One with Dementia All Year Round

Keep this list in a convenient spot so you can refer to it easily when you need a new suggestion:

  • Take photos of your garden or a nearby botanical garden and create a collage.
  • Plan a kitchen herb garden or a container garden in an easy-to-access spot.
  • Buy fresh produce at an indoor farm store or farmer’s market, weather permitting.
  • Make homemade ice cream, frozen fruit pops, or smoothies.
  • Blow bubbles with a grandchild.
  • Hang an attachable bird feeder on a window to enjoy feathered friends.
  • Pick a pumpkin at the pumpkin patch and paint a fun face on it.
  • Enjoy a nature walk or drive along the shore of a river or lake.
  • Deadhead flowers in the garden or do a little weeding.
  • Feed the ducks at a local park.
  • Rake leaves and bag them up to compost.
  • Water or feed plants in the garden.
  • Watch family videos or look through old family photos.
  • Take the dog for a long walk in the morning.
  • Go bird-watching and try to capture photos of the different types you see.
  • Listen to old music while you have a dance party in the living room.
  • Visit a fruit farm and pick fresh blueberries or strawberries.
  • Enjoy the aromatherapy that comes from baking an apple pie, cookies, or bread.
  • Arrange fresh flowers in a vase or place them in a press to make notecards.
  • Purchase craft kits or supplies from a local hobby store to use when you need an activity in a hurry.

We hope this gives you some fun ideas to help make a loved one with dementia feel more productive!

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What Is Parkinson’s Dementia?

What Is Parkinson’s Dementia?

Dear Donna:

A dear friend and colleague I’ve worked with for many years is the caregiver for her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease. For a long time, she was able to manage his care at home with help from their teenaged children. Several months ago, however, they had to hire professional caregivers through an agency.

Recently, her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s dementia. Several of us at work are wondering what this means and how we can help support our friend and her husband.

Do you have any advice?


Theresa in Kalkaska, MI

Learn More about Parkinson’s Dementia

Dear Theresa:

Thank you for your letter! It provides us with an opportunity to share information on this disease and how it can impact an entire family.

Researchers say 50 to 80 percent of adults living with Parkinson’s will also develop dementia. The condition can create unique safety issues for the person with Parkinson’s and their loved ones.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s dementia are similar to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While the disease affects everyone differently, the most common signs often include:

  • Memory loss and forgetfulness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble maintaining a conversation
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Frightening hallucinations
  • Quick to anger or tearfulness
  • Depression or extreme sadness
  • Difficulty finding the right words
  • Decline in judgment and decision-making

As you’ve probably witnessed with your friend, caring for someone with this disease is difficult. It can require around-the-clock assistance, leaving the caregiver exhausted and stressed. But there are a few ways friends can help.

  • Make very specific offers to help: Instead of saying “Let me know if you need anything,” try “I’m going to the grocery store tonight. What can I pick up for you?” Or “Can I stay with your husband for an hour or so while you go out for coffee or have a pedicure?”
  • Drop off meals: People who are taking care of a loved one often put their own wellness on the back burner. They skip exercising and rely on convenience foods. You and your colleagues might consider dropping off healthy meals a few times a week. Apps like Meal Train make it easier to work together.
  • Be a good listener: Sometimes the best way to help a family caregiver is by providing a sympathetic ear. Your friend is likely experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions during this time. Encouraging her to talk might help her process her feelings.
  • Ask her what she needs: It might be a good idea just to ask your friend what she needs help with that day or week. Many caregivers are reluctant to ask for or accept help. Be prepared to find ways to work around that resistance.
  • Explore respite care: You mentioned your friend was working with a home care agency for additional support. Another option she might not be aware of is respite care in an assisted living community. Her husband can be a short-term guest of the community to give your friend a break. It might be helpful to explore what is available in your city and share the list with her.

I hope this information is useful to you! Please call the Heritage community in your area if you have any questions.

Kind regards,


How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average age in this country has climbed by 3.4 years since 2000. As our population grows older, it only stands to reason that age-related medical issues are on the rise, too. One is Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 6 million people currently live with the disease. That number is projected to soar to 13 million by 2050.

While there is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s, early interventions may help slow the progression of the disease. These interventions make it important for an older adult to be evaluated early if Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia is suspected.

Early Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s extend beyond the memory loss commonly associated with the disease. Other warning signs that might indicate a problem include:

  • Developing changes in personality or disposition
  • Struggling with insomnia or other chronic sleep problems
  • Becoming lost in once familiar places
  • Forgetting appointments or important dates
  • Having trouble performing tasks that require abstract thought
  • Experiencing difficulty with written or verbal communication skills
  • Misplacing commonly used items, such as car keys and glasses

If a senior loved one is experiencing more than one of these changes, it might be time to schedule a physical with their primary care physician. It might not be Alzheimer’s disease at all. The changes could be the result of conditions that mimic dementia, like an infection or vitamin deficiency.

Methods to Diagnose Alzheimer’s

After a senior’s doctor has ruled out other potential medical conditions, they might start to consider Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. Many people are surprised to learn that a test to diagnose this disease does not exist. Instead, diagnosis is a process of identifying symptoms and eliminating other potential causes. The process of testing for Alzheimer’s includes:

  • Taking a medical history: If your parent hasn’t been to the doctor in a while, they’ll likely want an updated medical history. They will probably ask questions about health conditions that run in the family, as well as lifestyle choices. Diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, and exercise are a few they’ll want to learn more about. It’s also helpful if you write down the concerning changes you noticed in your family member. Think about how long ago you first noticed symptoms and if they seem to be getting worse.
  • Performing a physical exam: The senior’s doctor or medical assistant will take their blood pressure, temperature, and pulse. They might check reflexes, too. The physician will also assess the older adult’s memory and problem-solving skills with a series of questions or problems to solve. These evaluate memory, reasoning, judgment, attention span, and language skills.
  • Ordering blood tests: To rule out a thyroid disorder, an infection, or vitamin deficiencies, the doctor will order blood work. They might also order a urine test. Because a number of conditions mimic Alzheimer’s, it’s important to eliminate them before moving on with other testing.
  • Screening for depression: Depression is another illness that can present like Alzheimer’s, especially among older people. So much so that it is sometimes referred to as pseudodementia. The physician may conduct a depression screening or refer the older adult to a mental health expert.
  • Arranging for brain imaging tests: Brain scans will be ordered. These can show if the brain is shrinking while also looking for other potential causes of the troubling symptoms. A brain aneurysm, tumor, fluid, or stroke are just a few issues that can be detected with imaging.
  • Ordering a spinal tap: In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved biomarker tests for Alzheimer’s disease that have been used with success in Europe. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is collected through a spinal tap and then sent to the lab for evaluation.

Based on their findings, the primary care doctor will determine if the reported symptoms are linked to some form of dementia or if there is another underlying medical issue.

Experts in Dementia Care

While a diagnosis of dementia is difficult to hear, there are options that allow a senior to live a better quality of life. Some families find in-home care to be a helpful short-term solution. Others find a move to an assisted living community that also offers memory care is a better solution.

Heritage Senior Communities offer levels of care for adults at all stages of dementia. We encourage you to call the community nearest you to learn more today!

Recognizing the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Recognizing the Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

Dear Donna:

I have an elderly neighbor that we’ve lived next to for over twenty years. She doesn’t have any family left and seems to have outlived most of her friends. My children think of her as a bonus grandmother, and we are all very attached to her.

My husband and I have noticed changes in her over the last year or so. She’s a little forgetful and seems to be misplacing things a lot. While I know these are small changes, I’m concerned they might be signs of a bigger problem. I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s disease many years ago, and I’m worried this might be the issue with my neighbor.

Are these early signs of Alzheimer’s disease? I’m trying to decide if I should convince her to let me bring her to a doctor. It might be a tough topic to tackle with her, so I’m not sure how to proceed.

Any advice would be appreciated.


Rory in Williamsburg, MI

Is It Alzheimer’s Disease?

Dear Rory:

We all misplace things from time to time. The car keys. Our favorite pair of shoes. The television remote. It’s usually not anything to worry about. When memory loss begins to impact daily life, however, it can be a sign of something more serious.

While many people associate Alzheimer’s disease with memory loss and forgetfulness, other symptoms of the disease aren’t as well known.

  • Mismanaging finances: This common early warning sign is often missed. Someone with undiagnosed Alzheimer’s may pay one bill multiple times while neglecting to pay others. The disease also puts a senior at increased risk for scams and identity theft.
  • Difficulty communicating: Another change early Alzheimer’s can cause is difficulty communicating. A loss of verbal skills or problems with written communication are two examples. Seniors might also call objects by the wrong name or have problems maintaining a conversation.
  • Loss of abstract thought: Another red flag is when a senior begins struggling with routine multi-step tasks or errands that require abstract thought. These include writing out checks, creating a grocery list, or preparing meals.
  • Change in disposition: A sudden change in personality is another sign to take seriously. For example, a gregarious senior becoming ill-tempered or suspicious. They may be struggling with a difficult personal issue, but it can also be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
  • Withdrawing from friends: When someone first suspects they have a problem, it might be hard to admit. Embarrassment or the fear of being “discovered” can cause them to isolate from friends. They may even stop attending religious services and withdraw from favorite hobbies.
  • Getting lost: An older driver who has Alzheimer’s disease might get lost going to or from familiar places. If you notice that your next-door neighbor’s errands seem to be taking longer than they should or if she seems flustered after an outing, you might want to have a gentle discussion about it.

I hope this information is helpful to you, Rory! Please call the Heritage community nearest you if you have any questions!

Kind regards,


Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

Finding care for a loved one with a memory impairment requires thoughtful research and planning. If your search for dementia care includes Michigan, we encourage you to consider Heritage Senior Communities. From specialty caregivers to unique meals, The Terrace memory care is designed to help older adults live their best quality of life despite their disease.

Call the Heritage dementia care community nearest you to schedule a private tour today!

Coping with a Sense of Loss When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Coping with a Sense of Loss When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Dear Donna:

My dad and I have been my mom’s primary caregivers since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over three years ago. None of us were familiar with the disease or the unique challenges it would present. It’s been a real learning curve.

My dad and I are struggling to cope with a profound sense of loss, even though my mom is still with us. It seems like every day there is another change in Mom or something else she’s no longer able to do for herself. It’s so tough to witness this decline.

Do you have any suggestions for my dad and me? We want to be strong for my mom, but it’s getting more and more difficult.


Alysha in Midland, MI

Tips for Coping When a Loved One Has Alzheimer’s

Dear Alysha:

When a person has Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, their family and friends all feel the impact of the diagnosis. Alzheimer’s is frequently referred to as the long goodbye because the disease slowly robs a person of their verbal skills, memory, and independence. Like you and your dad, loved ones of people with Alzheimer’s often say they feel a deep sense of sadness, helplessness, and frustration as the disease progresses.

While the physical demands of caregiving can cause loved ones to feel exhausted, the mental toll can be equally trying. These ideas might be helpful to you and your dad:

  • Join a caregiver support group: Caring for someone you love when they have Alzheimer’s is different than caring for those with other types of life-limiting illnesses. Connecting with peers in a similar situation might be beneficial. The understanding and shared experience may bring you and your dad a sense of comfort. Some people might feel more comfortable joining a virtual support group than an in-person meeting. The Alzheimer’s Association has some virtual support group ideas for you to consider.
  • Live in the moment: Of all the suggestions listed, this one might be the most beneficial but also the most difficult to carry out. Instead of focusing on what your mom has lost, try to live in the present. Meet your mom where she is in this journey, which can be different every day.
  • Take a break: When you are caring for a person with Alzheimer’s, the days can be hectic and stressful. Try to take time for yourself on a regular basis, even if it’s just to have lunch with a friend or take a quick walk.
  • Learn to meditate: Many people find that meditation helps bring them inner peace during difficult times. If you haven’t tried it yet, there are a variety of options online for beginners. Watch Beginner’s Guide to Meditation and Guided Meditation for Seniors, Older Adults to get started.
  • Try music therapy: Music offers therapeutic value to people of all ages. For people with dementia and their loved ones, it can be a way to connect after communication skills are impaired. Playing happy music might be a way for the three of you to enjoy your time together.

I hope some of these suggestions are useful to you and your dad, Alysha. I’m wishing your family all the best.

Kind regards,


Specialized Dementia Care at Heritage Senior Communities

When a senior has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, specialized care can help them live their best quality of life. From our person-centered approach to care to an environment that promotes independence, Heritage Senior Communities are leaders in the field of dementia care. Call the community nearest you to learn more and schedule a personal visit soon!

Navigating the Time Change When a Senior Has Dementia

Navigating the Time Change When a Senior Has Dementia

Dear Donna:

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. Over the last year or so she has started experiencing sundowner’s syndrome. It has gotten worse recently, and she often tries to exit our house on her own when she is agitated.

When we changed our clocks last spring for daylight saving time, I noticed my mom’s sundowning worsened. I think it was because it stayed light outside for so much longer. It was so difficult to get her to wind down and go to sleep for months after we set our clocks ahead.

As we are heading toward the end of daylight saving time, I’m wondering what to expect now that it will get dark earlier. Is there anything I can do to make this transition go more smoothly?

Any suggestions are greatly appreciated!


Cindy in Saginaw, MI

The Impact of the Time Change on Alzheimer’s

Dear Cindy:

Good observation! We don’t talk about this issue enough. As you’ve already discovered, a routine is essential for adults with memory impairment. Changes in their daily schedule, including time changes, can be disruptive and lead to anxiety, restlessness, and agitation. We’ve witnessed it in the memory care neighborhoods at Heritage Senior Communities. In response, we’ve taken steps to try to minimize the impact of the time change every six months.

One is that Alzheimer’s disease disrupts the body’s circadian rhythm. So, it makes sense that the time change could exacerbate the behaviors associated with sundowner’s syndrome. A few ideas to try to help minimize sundowning symptoms all year long, including during time changes, are:

  • Control the interior lighting: One suggestion is to control the lighting inside your home. If you are trying to prevent your loved one from falling asleep or going to bed too early, close the blinds and turn all of the lights on inside. It might help trick the body into thinking it’s still daytime. This may also help decrease agitation and pacing, which are common among adults with Alzheimer’s during the evenings.
  • Structure the day carefully: When you are caring for a family member with Alzheimer’s, how you plan your day is important. If you notice your mom gets tired and falls asleep in the late afternoon, rethink how you are structuring the day. It might be better to schedule appointments and activity for morning, so you can avoid late-day naps that might make bedtime more challenging. A quick nap earlier in the day might be better.
  • Get regular exercise: Physical fitness activities are good for the body, mind, and soul. For adults with Alzheimer’s, it is also useful for preventing or reducing the agitation and anxiety commonly associated with the disease. It may help your mom feel more relaxed and comfortable throughout the day, reducing the incidences of sundowning. Try taking a 15-minute walk in the morning and doing some gentle stretching in the afternoon. Both are good for older adults and their caregivers!

I hope these tips provide you with some ideas to make the time change go more smoothly!

Kind regards,


Bookmark the Heritage Blog

We know caregivers are always searching for information and resources to help them support a senior loved one. That’s why we encourage you to bookmark this blog and stop back often. We share new articles each week on topics ranging from evaluating a senior living community to creating meaningful days for an adult with dementia.