Planning Engaging and Meaningful Activities for a Parent with Dementia

An at-home caregiver’s guide to planning activities

Planning Engaging and Meaningful Activities for a Parent with Dementia

Spending quality time with a loved one who has dementia might not look like it used to. If you’re the primary caregiver for a loved one, making time for leisurely activities might be the last thing on your mind.

Managing medications, picking out clothes for the day, helping with bathing, or planning and prepping meals can make it easy to forget to take time to just enjoy each other’s company. However, extensive research shows that there are benefits for both the caregiver and the parent receiving care. 

Inactivity or lack of meaningful activity can actually make caregiving even harder. If you are a family caregiver and feel like your day-to-day has significantly lacked meaning and purpose besides caring for your loved one, you’re not alone. 

In fact, Medical News Today reported that most people with dementia spend a significant amount of time being sedentary and are less physically active than their cognitively healthy peers. Inactivity can lead to health problems for both the family caregiver and the person they care for. 

Lack of activity for those with dementia can lead to weight gain, loss of muscle strength, weaker bones, and increased inflammation. For caregivers, a lack of meaningful activity can increase the effects of stress and even lead to caregiver burnout.  

While it can be difficult to find time, given the extensive amount of help a loved one with dementia might need as the disease progresses, planning activities that stimulate the brain and movement is just as important as caregiving activities. 

Meaningful activities can lessen anxiety and irritability. It can also help you make new memories and feel more connected to your parent — an important part of the caregiving journey. 

How to Find Time for Engaging Activities While Being a Family Caregiver

While you may understand the importance of planning meaningful and engaging activities, finding the time to do so might be challenging. Here are three helpful and important tips for getting started. 

Build Activities into Your Daily Routine 

Increasing the amount of quality time you spend with a loved one if you don’t already have an established, predictable routine might seem like an impossible task — especially if your life as a caregiver changes from minute to minute. 

Having consistent, daily routines in place makes it easier to identify times during the day you could plan an engaging activity. Be conscientious of the times of day your loved one is most likely to be in the right mood and have the energy level to participate in an activity with you.

Use helpful tools like this Meal Planning Worksheet.

Encourage Engagement  

When planning meaningful activities to do with your loved one who has dementia, it’s important to encourage them to stay engaged in activities they’ll enjoy. It’s also important to identify ways to keep your loved one mobile and moving. 

The easiest way to encourage your loved one to engage with the activities you’ve planned is to pick things that are connected to interests your loved one already has. Did your mom enjoy baking with you in the kitchen when you were younger? Did your dad love playing cards on family game night? Use prior interests to think about ways to create activities your loved one would enjoy doing. 

Physical activity can be the hardest type of activity to encourage your loved one with memory loss to engage in. Try this Physical Activity Planner to find creative ways to increase your loved one’s physical activity during the day.  

Plan Meaningful Activities That Will Help You Connect with Your Loved One

 Family caregivers have a front-row seat when it comes to watching the devastating effects of this progressive, incurable disease. Being solely responsible for the day-to-day care of a loved one with dementia is emotionally draining in itself. As dementia progresses, it can be easy to remember what your loved one was previously capable of that they no longer can do on their own. 

Rather than focusing on the deficits that come along with dementia, shifting your focus towards what your loved one is capable of is the first step in planning meaningful activities. This kind of mindset allows you to focus on activities that promote connection, and in turn, feel like meaningful moments that will leave you feeling like it was a valuable way to spend your time. 

Make sure that whatever activity you choose will allow for interaction between both of you —  this could range from simple conversations around ideas or topics you both enjoy to more complex activities like puzzles or crafts. 

No matter what activity you choose for yourself and your loved one experiencing dementia, do not forget that this is a chance for quality time together — so make sure you make every moment count. 

11 Meaningful Activities to do with a Loved One with Dementia

If you’re looking for ways to incorporate meaningful and engaging activities with your loved one, here is a list of 11 popular ways to spend a little more quality time with your loved one.  

1. Listening to Music

Listening to music from your loved one’s past can help them recall certain memories and emotions. Play songs that are associated with highlights from their life, such as their first wedding dance or a song that was popular when they had you or your sister or brother. Have them sing along to help them recall the certain emotion they felt during this time.

2. Music Therapy  

In a recent study, music therapy has been shown to provide those with dementia a boost in their mood along with improving overall cognitive skills and can decrease the need for some medications. Programs and groups across the nation have been created to provide those with dementia with a place to engage with music. 

For example, a choir was formed in Minneapolis, Minnesota for people living with Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases. This choir provides members time to be joyful, laugh and sing, allowing them to feel a part of a community they feel comfortable in.

3.  Plan Some Physical Activity

Exercise can help to improve mood, sleep, appetite, and energy levels for those living with dementia. Research shows that physical activity can also improve memory and slow down mental decline. Taking a walk together, going for a swim, or even just doing some simple stretching exercises can be a great way to get some exercise while spending time together.

4. Attend a Sporting Event 

Plan a trip to attend a sporting event or watch a sporting event on tv together of a sport your loved one has played or enjoyed watching in the past. It’s a great way for those with dementia to remember their competitive edge, or remember time spent with family or friends watching a competition unfold against two rival teams. 

5. Gardening

Gardening is a great sensory activity for those with dementia. Sensory activities are a great way to help your loved one live in the moment while interacting with their surroundings.

Gardening, fresh air, and sunshine boost mood. Seeing flowers or vegetables bloom, or grow to the point where they can be harvested gives your loved one an opportunity to feel valued while seeing the progress of planting, watering, or cleaning garden beds. 

6. Put a Puzzle Together or Play the  Matching Game

Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. They keep the brain active and engaged by figuring out which piece fits together with the others. They also provide a relaxing way to spend time together. Sorting activities are another great way to pass the time. Have your loved one help you sort a basket of laundry, or go through the bolts drawer and sort bolts by size. 

7. Bake a Family-Favorite Dessert  

For many, fond memories of time spent around the family table are sparked by the smell of familiar foods. If you’re looking for a way to feel connected with your loved one who is experiencing memory loss from dementia, try re-creating a dessert from your childhood.  

8. Spend some time reminiscing

Reminiscence therapy is a type of therapy that uses memories to help people with dementia connect with their past and present. Looking at old photos or talking about life milestones can be a great way to bond with your loved one. 

9. Play a familiar game

Playing a familiar game is another great way to spend time together and stimulate the mind. Games such as cards, checkers, chess, and word games can all help to improve cognitive function. 

10. Find a fun craft

Working on simple crafts such as coloring, painting, or scrapbooking can help to improve fine motor skills and promote creative thinking. Additionally, completing crafts projects together can be a great way to create lasting memories

11. Plan an Afternoon Tea with Close Friends

In a study of 2,249 California women published in the July American Journal of Public Health, researchers reported that older women who maintained large social networks reduced their risk of dementia and delayed or prevented cognitive impairment.

Spending time with family and friends can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness for both the caregiver and your loved one. Additionally, participating in activities such as support groups or social clubs can also be beneficial.

Plan an afternoon coffee or tea with close friends to add some socialization into your weekly routine. 

Spending quality time with someone who is living with dementia doesn’t have to be challenging or stressful — there are plenty of ways for families to connect despite any cognitive changes that may arise. Establish consistent routines, encourage engagement through meaningful activities, and create opportunities for you and your loved one to connect. 

Highgate Senior Living is committed to providing valuable, helpful resources for families living in our communities. If you’re interested in learning more about a Highgate Caregiver Support Group, click here. 

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