by Paula Spencer Scott, senior editor at Caring.com
Alzheimer’s disease demands a series of losses — the ability to drive, to work, to make decisions, to manage money, to perceive the world in the same way as before. But the human spirit still longs for meaningful purpose and engagement. When your loved one is involved in something meaningful and satisfying, it can boost mood and lower agitation and other behavioral problems.
Here are four activities that many caregivers overlook:
Singing, dancing, or other activities involving music
Whether your loved one once played an instrument or never showed much musical interest at all, chances are good that music shaped his or her life. Because musical memories are stored in multiple parts of the brain, they’re often long lasting. Try singing old hymns to a churchgoer or play the music that was popular when the person was in his or her teens and 20s. These songs tend to have “deep grooves” in the brain. Holiday music is also popular.
Better yet, initiate a dance. You might be surprised how fluidly even someone frail manages to move to beloved, familiar music. People with later stages of Alzheimer’s who speak very little have even been known to start singing through an entire song as they sway along. Best of all, the good mood that music and dance bring can last for days — even after the set itself has been forgotten.
Doing favorite household chores
There’s a tendency for caregivers to want to do things for a loved one with dementia. Unfortunately this kind of thinking, while well intentioned, robs the person of a chance to reap the satisfaction of meaningful contributions.
Look for rote chores that your loved one once enjoyed. The mechanical memory involved with doing the job might kick in and make something without too many steps very doable. Consider tasks like folding towels, polishing silver, painting a fence, snapping peas or beans, or picking up sticks in the yard.
Listening to old radio or watching old TV shows
Kids and young adults today take it for granted that they can watch reruns — or a whole season of a hit show — any time they want. But this is a novel idea to an older adult.
With old programs so plentiful online, dig up some of your loved one’s favorites. Chances are good that he or she hasn’t heard or seen these classics (or not-quite-classics) in years but may remember the characters and theme songs well.
Taking up painting
Many people with dementia, when they lose a certain amount of self-consciousness, are able to tap into a creative side that had gone into hibernation years ago. Many a family member has been surprised to discover that Mom or Dad, who never painted anything more than a wall in their lives, has an avid-artist side. Painting can be a terrific form of self-expression, especially for someone who finds it increasingly difficult to communicate with language. Some people with dementia enjoy spending hours at it.
Experiment with different kinds of paint or other art materials (such as pastels) to see which your loved one enjoys working with.
Paula Spencer Scott is senior editor at Caring.com, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. Paula is a 2011 MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow and writes extensively about health and caregiving.