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When a loved one is suffering from cognitive declines such as Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia, their natural tendency will be to withdraw from family, friends, and social events. Their gaps in memory or not being able to put a name to a familiar face leaves them feeling vulnerable, anxious, and sometimes depressed. It is important to remember even though their memories or mind may become confused over time, that just like the rest of us they still need love, compassion, and physical touch.

Adults suffering from cognitive decline also need to be stimulated mentally and challenged physically. This can be tricky because if their disease in its later stages they may not trust people to help them with these tasks, and the risk for depression goes up while their quality of life goes down.

As a few general rules, make sure to keep activities simple and to be willing to move on to something else if they become frustrated or angry. The goal is to engage with them in a positive way. Here are some tips to help find activities that are beneficial and enjoyable for aging adults with cognitive decline.

Identify Their Abilities

Before you can help your aging loved one with some activities they may enjoy, you first need to identify what they are capable of accomplishing. Are they able to have a conversation, walk short or long distances, perform fine motor skills tasks (button their shirt, open a door, zip a zipper, etc.), or follow written or verbal directions? Once you have determined what they can successfully participate in without getting frustrated, you will have a better idea of which activities to help them in.

Mental Stimulation

It’s important that the activities are not just time fillers or time wasters. Everyone finds much more satisfaction in completing tasks and activities that they find enjoyable, rather than something that someone else is forcing them to do. Utilizing skills and talents that the adult has past experience with is a sure way to bring a smile to their face. Some enjoyable mental activities can include working on children’s puzzles, knitting simple patterns, solving Suduko or crosswords, listening to a favorite music CD, listening to an audiobook or reading an actual book, or looking through family photo albums together.

Physical Exercise

It is very important for people of any age to have regular physical activity. Exercise has been proven to help beat depression, help promote better sleep at night, reduce stress and anxiety, and contribute to a general feeling of well being. Some easy, low impact activities include taking a walk, tossing a softball back and forth, practicing yoga or tai chi, gardening, and other light yard work, doing chores around the house, and swimming. If your aging loved one is unable to walk you may consider looking into stretches and exercises that can be done while sitting down. Don’t forget the power that a little bit of vitamin D and some fresh air can have on a person; make sure to go outside every day if weather permits.

Emotional Support

Most adults suffering from cognitive decline are very sensitive emotionally. A few ways this can manifest is anger, weepiness, anxiety, or depression. By connecting emotionally with the patient or loved one, you are bringing them comfort and a sense of peace they desperately need, and physical touch is a wonderful way to accomplish this. A hug, brushing their hair, soothing dry skin with lotion, or giving a manicure are just a few ways to make the patient feel more at ease. Some aging adults really enjoy feeling different textures, so it’s a good idea to have a few items that are soft, smooth, rough, or bumpy for them to feel.

Sometimes seniors connect with inanimate objects such as a favorite blanket, a stuffed animal, or a little baby doll. There are specially made animal ‘pets’ for dementia patients that move and make sounds that can often be very engaging for aging adults without the cleanup and responsibility of owning a live animal.

In the End

Caring for an adult with cognitive decline is really about trying new things, seeing what works, and then trying to stick to some sort of routine. They may not remember everything they did last week or even the day before, but consistency and perseverance will go a long way in bringing some comfort and stability to their ever-changing minds.

If you and your family need help or support in caring for an aging loved one with cognitive decline or memory loss, our experienced and compassionate care coordinators are only a phone call away. We understand wanting to make your loved one as comfortable as possible, and that is one of the reasons our services are always free to you and your family.