Connecting with others is at the core of being human – and it’s something that doesn’t change when a person has dementia. We’re often asked what are good activities for dementia patients. It’s important to know that there are many ways you can continue to form connections and strengthen bonds with your loved one during this time.
People with dementia often return to long-term memories of childhood. Their minds seem to only recall their younger years, and this is often where connections can be made. The next time you visit with your loved one, try one or more of the following activities to create a connection with them:
Fill the bag with items reminiscent of their late teens/early twenties. Scented products work well for this, as scents are strongly tied to memory. Try including soap, perfumes and aftershave, or holiday scents like gingerbread, pine and peppermint.
Photo albums with pictures from their childhood or young adulthood are best for this. Old periodicals are another good option, particularly those that include many photos such as Life or Time magazines.
If your loved one has a favorite book, read it out loud to them and let them hold the book and feel the pages. Encourage them to enjoy the distinctive “old book smell.” Reading aloud works especially well with poetry, as the cadence of the words are familiar and calming.
Download songs or set up radio to stream that features music from their teenage years. Many internet radio stations include everything from classic rock to big band sounds, their favorite music should be easy to find.
If they grew up going to church, sing old hymns with them. If it’s around the holidays, sing holiday carols or other special songs. Class sing-a-longs and music classes were much more common in schools prior to the electronic age. You might be surprised at what songs your loved ones know and remember from elementary school.
Did your parents grow up watching westerns like Gunsmoke or family dramas such as My Three Sons? Perhaps they were more interested in musicals like “The King and I” or “Singing in the Rain.” You can find many favorite movies and shows from the 40s, 50s and 60s on Netflix or other streaming services.
Use nature to integrate sensory experiences into conversation. Listen to birdsong, touch the wet grass, smell the roses and feel the sunshine on your shoulders. Ask what their favorite outdoor activities were during their youth and try to safely recreate similar scenarios if possible.
In the past, women spent a great deal of their teenage years learning to cook and young adult years cooking for their families. Discuss origins and variations on old family recipes, or better yet, cook with those old family recipes and share the results with your loved ones.
Look for candy or other indulgences that were commonplace when your loved one was young. Many companies specialize in nostalgic candy where you can buy old favorites like horehound candy and soft peppermint sticks. Even simple things, like an orange, can be a treat to someone who remembers when you only had them during holidays.
People who grew up on farms may enjoy an outing to a petting zoo or family farm where they can touch and talk to horses and other farm animals. Ask questions about animals, old pets, or what it was like to grow up on a farm. This is a great activity to involve grandchildren in, since many kids today are not familiar with farms.
Nothing elicits childhood memories like familiar old toys. Erector sets, kewpie dolls, sock monkeys and marbles were some of the most popular toys during the 40s and 50s. There are many websites dedicated to antique toys. If you have any old toys available, bring them when you visit, ask questions about how they were played with, or, in the case of construction toys, build something together.
Did your loved one quilt, crochet or knit? Put a homemade quilt or skein of yarn in their hands and let them feel the weight of the quilt and the scratchiness of the yarn. You may be surprised to find that your loved one can still crochet or knit a little bit, even though they have serious memory or cognitive deficits. Often, the muscles remember what the brain has forgotten.
Your loved one may be different than the person you have always known, but they still long for connection and companionship. You can encourage that connection by using these activities to enrich both of your lives.
Update: January 2018