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Tips for Structuring Activities for People with Dementia

For many caregivers, finding ways to keep loved ones engaged and stimulated can become a challenge, especially as illness or disease progresses. However, for many older adults, especially those living with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, having an active daily routine is a key part of promoting overall wellness.

Using established and consistent routines can promote a sense of safety and reassurance for those with Alzheimer’s and for their caregivers. According to the Alzheimer’s Project, a daily structure can help decrease aggression, anxiety, restlessness and agitation. By creating an environment of familiarity, those with dementia can retain a sense of independence while remaining calm and comforted. 

Importance of a Daily Routine 

Whether we recognize them or not, we all have routines that take place each day. Routines can consist of activities that occur daily or the order in which tasks are completed. For example, your morning routine might include eating breakfast, reading the newspaper, or going for a walk. In the evening, you might start preparing for sleep by bathing, brushing your teeth, and changing clothes. Meaningful activities for people with dementia should include things that focus on basic daily tasks, physical exercise, and therapeutic activities.

While a routine can help caregivers and loved ones complete tasks and stay organized, it also has other physical and mental benefits. As those with dementia practice an activity consistently, it can increase the likelihood of maintaining that skill. In addition, the familiarity of a routine can decrease anxiety and provide a sense of control and safety. Routines aren’t only important for those with dementia.

Caregivers can benefit from them just as much as their loved ones. Routines can help decrease the risk of challenging behaviors and can also lessen the stress of being a caregiver by making the day more organized. Activities that happen regularly, such as folding the laundry or preparing dinner, can increase self-esteem and confidence because the person is contributing to an overall goal. As dementia progresses, finding ways to stay independent becomes increasingly important.

Creating a Daily Routine  

Most people with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of progressive dementia will eventually need a caregiver’s assistance with creating a daily routine. As you write your plan, it’s important to include activities that both you and your loved one enjoy. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, a caregiver should consider the person’s likes, dislikes, strengths, and abilities.

It’s also important to think about how a person used to structure their day, and choose a routine that closely resembles what those days used to look like. Routines should leave enough time for meals, bathing, dressing, and regular times for waking up and going to bed. In addition, caregivers should remember to leave time for flexibility in case there are surprises or interruptions during the day. The Alzheimer’s Association recommends a daily routine that consists of the following types of activities:

  • Household chores
  • Mealtimes
  • Personal care
  • Creative activities
  • Spontaneous (visiting family or friends)
  • Intellectual
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Spiritual
  • Work-related

How to Keep Loved Ones Engaged 

An important element in creating a daily routine is to choose activities that will keep your loved one with dementia engaged and stimulated. Engaging in new activities and socializing with others can provide a sense of belonging and help them feel a renewed sense of purpose. However, it’s not always easy to find activities to keep them engaged. Here are a few helpful strategies when choosing activities to implement into your loved one’s daily routine:

  • Adapt familiar activities. If your loved one enjoys activities that are no longer appropriate for their skill level, try making some adaptations. For example, if they enjoy cooking, but can no longer follow a recipe or use kitchen appliances safely, try modifying a recipe to make it more appropriate, or suggest specific responsibilities like cracking eggs or stirring. Other activities such as fishing or hiking may require additional supervision.
  • Exercise cognitive skills. The more we use our cognitive skills, the more likely they are to stick around. Encourage your loved one to participate in activities that strengthen cognition, such as journaling, taking pictures, making artwork, or working on a puzzle.
  • Set goals together. Finding a sense of purpose is crucial to the well-being of older adults, especially for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Creating a goal that can be accomplished together can provide this sense of independence and purpose. This could look like crossing off items on a daily to-do list or planning a daytrip or vacation together. Keep in mind, if you’re working on a larger project, it’s important to break down the steps and celebrate small accomplishments.

Wintertime Activity Ideas for Caregivers 

Thinking of new activities to do with your loved one can be difficult. However, the Alzheimer’s Association has compiled a helpful list of ideas. Here are a few to get you started:   

Outdoor Activities

Connecting with nature can be helpful for those with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Spending time outside can decrease agitated behavior and even reduce anxiety. Depending on the weather, you might consider bundling up for a short walk or enjoying a hot drink outside. Outside chores, such as sweeping the porch or patio, or organizing the garage, will give your loved one a goal and provide self-confidence when the activity is finished. 

Inside Activities

Listening to music, looking at family photo albums, or completing a puzzle together are great winter activities. Building with LEGOS® is also a great way to stimulate the brain and strengthen critical thinking skills. Reading books, identifying states on a map, or even just watching a movie together are all good cognitive stimulation activities for someone with dementia. Some other inside activities could include:

  • Watching a sporting event
  • Baking together
  • Playing a card game
  • Decorating greeting cards
  • Sculpting with clay or playdough 
  • Working on easy crossword puzzles 

Personal Activities 

Regular daily activities can be adapted to feel more special and encourage social connection. You might consider giving hand massages, brushing your loved one’s hair, or giving them a manicure. Making meals together, folding laundry, or washing and drying dishes can keep them engaged while also encouraging independence. 

Arts and Crafts

Unleashing your inner artist is a great way to feel creative and productive. Coloring in color books, creating decorations, painting with Q-tips, or sorting buttons and coins are all simple activities that can be enjoyable and provide an opportunity to socialize with others. 

Staying Active at Maplewood Senior Living We know how important maintaining a daily routine can be for one’s physical and mental health. Our robust offerings include daily activities, social gatherings, and fitness classes, some of which are specifically designed for those living with chronic illnesses and their caregivers. To learn more about these services or to schedule a tour of our community, please contact us.  

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