Based on my experiences with my husband, Floyd, who had Alzheimer’s Disease for twelve years and my recent research I have come to realize how much can be done by care partners to help their loved ones who have dementia. With the additional issues raised by the coronavirus, let me offer suggestions for activities that can be done in or near your home which may help to fill time productively and happily. These activities are based on the Montessori method.
Montessori for Aging and Dementia is a person-centered approach to memory care. In the Montessori classroom, teachers “follow the child.” With older adults with dementia the mantra is “see the person, not the disease.” The focus is on the individual’s perceived abilities and strengths, their interests and roles – past and present, Thus “care partnering” is at the heart of the Montessori approach.
Jennifer Brush is an international speaker, consultant, researcher and author in the area of dementia care. Ms. Brush works with dementia communities to create environments, based on the Montessori method, that enable those with dementia to flourish. For more information on this approach, view her video, “Living an Abundant Life: Montessori for Aging” on her website. and/or read her book, “I Care” that fully explains this method.
Studies have shown that art and music reduce agitation and aggression, stimulate conversations, provide a means of self-expression, facilitate cognitive functions, help with coordination of motor movements. They even help with connection to memories.
Coloring is beneficial. Anyone can do it. It can be engrossing to the point of meditation. For Floyd I chose oil pastels that are like crayons but are easier to use and have so many vibrant colors. Later we translated his paintings into needlework. However, any medium will work. For example, create a collage with pre-cut magazine pictures chosen based on areas of interest and related words to get the conversation started. Perhaps working with clay will promote movement and the joy of tactile experiences.
Research has shown listening to or singing songs can provide emotional and behavioral benefits for people with Dementia. Musical memories are often preserved because key brain areas linked to musical memory remain relatively undamaged by Dementia.
The noted neurologist, Oliver Sacks, wrote that “music brings back the feeling of life when nothing else can.” Studies have shown that memories and emotions can be recalled and mental performance can be enhanced after singing classic hits and show tunes from movies and musicals. Most enjoyed are “Sound of Music”, “When You Wish Upon a Star”, and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” In addition, lullabies at bedtime are soothing.
Research has also shown that scores on memory tests actually improve when listening to classical music.
Reading together is something that may seem unlikely at various stages of dementia, but, in fact, is quite doable and rewarding. Working in collaboration with Jennifer Brush are local author and illustrator, Rita and Ronn Akins, who are writing short stories that enable people with dementia to participate in shared reading with a care partner. Two stories have been completed in a planned series. Each story features “large print text with full page color illustrations.” Visit their website, and click on “Stories for Older Adults” for more information.
Gardening is yet another activity to pursue. Oliver Sacks, wrote, “I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains…I have seen several people with advanced Alzheimer’s Disease, who can’t recall how to perform basic operations … like tying their shoes, suddenly know exactly what to do when handed seedlings and placed before a flower bed.” Research studies have shown that outdoor time can help with sleep by maintaining or resetting circadian rhythms, It makes one feel more creative, reduces pain, helps with relaxation, provides a dose of vitamin D, and makes it easier to concentrate.
The therapeutic benefits of gardening, visiting garden centers and being outdoors are unrivaled. Visiting wildlife refuges, arboretums, and botanical gardens can be a wonderful day out and about. While the outdoor areas are still open, bare in mind that the buildings are not, including needed facilities.
There is a wealth of materials that are available for people with dementia. Go here. You will find books, puzzles, games, and art activities that can be shared.
There are many resources available to help you as a care partner plan your day with your loved one. With just a general understanding of some options and searching helpful websites, you can better develop a personalized plan for activities and roles that work in your home environment. A whole world will open up to each of you making each day more productive, healthier, and happier thus creating some very good memories.
Barbara Vann was an internal consultant for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where she worked with a broad range of non-medical staff and management to create systems, policies, and training to support high quality patient care. When she moved to Chestertown she focused on creating artwork in a range of media and became active in Chestertown’s arts community.