The holidays are upon us. If you’re planning to get together with family in the days and weeks ahead, there are ways to help a loved one with Alzheimer’s take part. Individuals in both the earlier and later stages of cognitive decline often retain select knowledge and abilities. Being able to identify and encourage these memories and skills not only helps the person with dementia, but also enriches the lives of everyone in the family.
Finding ways to include a cognitively impaired family member helps relatives remember and engage the person. It also imparts a sense of belonging and competence that may improve his or her mood. Being engaged in family activities may also help quiet someone who’s restless or agitated.
People with dementia are often able to take part in various family-oriented pastimes. Reading aloud, for example, is a skill that can persist even in later stages of cognitive decline. With simple, large-print books, individuals may be able to read to grandchildren or other family members. Reading to others gives the person a social role in the family.
Reminiscence is another activity that can be particularly beneficial while also strengthening family bonds. The idea is to use objects, art, music, or other items with personal meaning to connect to the past.
Sorting old photos or making a scrapbook may trigger shared memories from your loved one’s youth or early adulthood, which can add to a family’s sense of history.
Smells also are powerful links to the past. Although the sense of smell may diminish in a dementia sufferer, an emotion-linked aroma like that of freshly baked cookies may encourage the individual to talk about his or her childhood.
These and similar activities help family members connect. They encourage communication and may help take the edge off what can be an exhausting and frustrating caregiving situation. And keep in mind that these tips can help strengthen family ties at any time of the year.
It’s also important to note that not everyone with dementia will respond to these activities, and some may find them stressful and overstimulating. Try to avoid unrealistic expectations or pressuring a person into any activity that is frustrating or upsetting.