If you have a parent suffering from dementia, you might be struggling to find ways to spend time together that you can trust will be positive and engaging ones. It’s understandable that the prospect might feel intimidating: because dementia can involve irrational behavior, what once was enjoyable for Dad might now trigger feelings of confusion or anger that can be tough to anticipate. We’ve seen countless families struggle with this issue, and of course, it’s one we navigate on a professional level in our memory care communities. Here are three points to keep in mind before starting out:
- SIMPLIFY as much as possible. Activities with one or two steps tend to work best. Dad’s passion for gardening might now morph into pulling weeds, watering plants, or even just a walk through the Public Garden.
- MISTAKES will happen. Try your best to ignore them and avoid getting discouraged. Expect to make ongoing re-evaluations based on trial and error – this is especially true as the disease progresses.
- SUCCESS is in the doing. Take the long view and have low expectations about actual results, and focus more on the task itself.
With all that in mind, here are some ideas for some simple, hands-on activities that can work well to engage mom or dad while minimizing frustration:
- Gardening tasks, like pulling weeds; transplanting plants; planting seeds or bulbs
- Kitchen jobs, like shucking corn; shelling peas; mashing potatoes; making a simple boxed muffin or cake mix
- Sorting and organizing activities, like Tupperware by size or color; buttons, by size, color, or style; playing cards, into decks that match; pantry items, arranging cans and jars by size, brand, or content
- Simple games and puzzles, like Old Maid, Go Fish, dominoes, or jigsaw puzzles with very large pieces
- Playing along to music, with children’s instruments or even just handclaps
Memory-focused projects can also be a wonderful way to spend a few hours while stirring up feelings from happier times. Put together a memory box, full of mementos and favorite photographs; or go through old photo albums, stopping to talk about a particular memory as you go; or assemble a photo collage around a theme – like a beach vacation, or a grandchild’s birthday.
Even those with more advanced dementia can engage in and get satisfaction from some simpler activities, like
- Arranging a sock drawer
- Having a friend to visit with a well-trained pet
- Having a manicure or hand massage
- Sitting on a park bench and watching the birds, or sitting near the ocean