Throughout our lives, we interact with friends, family, and strangers on a daily basis. It is important that persons with dementia continue to have these sort of meaningful encounters, even as their disease progresses. While it is true that your loved one with dementia may have trouble retaining memories or remembering his / her own loved ones, he / she can still recognize the attention, feelings, and moods of others. In addition to continuing to interact with others, it’s also important for persons with dementia to continue to stay active by participating in activities and exercising. Doing so has many positive benefits, such as maintaining good physical health, encouraging a healthier outlook, and getting a good night sleep.
Interacting with people who have dementia can often be hardest for those who know them best, specifically friends and family, who knew what they were like “before”. Many of these people don’t know what to say or how to interact with a loved one who might not even recognize them anymore. To learn more about communicating with people with dementia or how to help prepare others for socializing with your loved one, visit our page on communication.
Here are a few helpful tips that can help ensure each social visit with your loved one goes as smoothly as possible.
Social visits should be planned for the time of day when your loved one is feeling his / her best not necessarily when it is most convenient for the visitor. A common phenomenon in mid to late Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias is “sundowning”. This is also sometimes referred to as “late day confusion” and continues into the evening hours. Those who experience “sundowning” may show signs of not only confusion, but also agitation and disorientation. Therefore, late afternoon and evenings may not be a good time for visitors to see your loved one. Visits should occur in environments that are not too crowded or busy, as doing so can create frustration, stress, and agitation for persons with dementia.
Make sure that friends and family have appropriate expectations by explaining the nature of the disease and what to expect as it progresses and worsens. Prepare visitors by informing them of how the mind and behavior of your loved one has changed. Prepare some sort of activity that can be shared during a visit, such as singing a song, looking through old photo albums, or taking a walk, as this can give your loved one something to focus upon. If there are pictures of the person(s), offer them to your loved one as a visual reminder as to who is coming to visit.
Make sure that whoever is going to be interacting with your loved one knows how he / she can best communicate with the person with dementia. Let visitors know that they should go with the flow and try to follow these guidelines:
In addition to maintaining social interactions, it is important that your loved one remain as active as possible, even as his / her dementia progresses. Daily activity and exercise are important for physical health, helping one to sleep better and to remain mobile. Such activity is also important to staying mentally healthy as well and plays an important role in helping individuals to relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. Perhaps most important, exercise and activity provides time for meaningful interactions for your loved one doing something they can enjoy.
There are a variety of simple activities that you and your loved one can enjoy together. Examples include walking around a neighborhood, park, or indoor mall in inclement weather, doing chores around the house or in the yard, such as folding clothes or weeding, and participating in gym activities, such as swimming, lifting light weights, or aerobics. The following are a few suggestions for encouraging your loved one to participate in activities with you:
Consider if there is a particular activity or sport that your loved one especially enjoys. For instance, some people have a passion for working in the garden or swimming laps in the pool. If you can pinpoint a passion or two of your loved one, try to pursue this as best you can, as your loved one will likely be more interested in staying active with activities in which he / she enjoys. In addition, local senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging can provide information about social activities and events that are available to seniors.
With the progression of dementia, try finding ways that your loved one can continue to participate in these activities, even if he / she can’t participate as fully as before. For instance, if your loved one enjoys dancing, try simpler steps where he / she can follow you, or at the very least, take him / her to watch dances.
Your loved one may be more able to engage in activities at particular times of day. Most caregivers find it helpful to attempt exercise and activities when their loved one is most energetic and alert, whether this is early in the morning or in the afternoon. If you find that your loved one is reluctant to participate, try pairing positive events with activities, such as going for a walk before dinner or meeting a friend in the mall. Start first with smaller goals, such as a walk around the yard and work up to larger, more strenuous activities, such as a walk around the neighborhood. Also, pay attention to your loved one’s capability to make sure that you are moving at a pace that is comfortable for him / her.
If your loved one will be active outside, be sure that he / she wears a medical alert bracelet that contains information on medical conditions or allergies. Also, if your loved one is prone to wandering, it can be extremely helpful to include your phone number as an emergency contact number, along with information that your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. In addition, take care that he / she will be protected from the sun, with sunglasses, long clothing, or sunblock. Finally, make sure that your loved one is staying well hydrated and is not overexerting him / herself.
Even in late stages of dementia, your loved one may enjoy being moved outdoors to enjoy nature. Be careful to avoid bright sunlight and protect him / her from insects. He / she may also enjoy smelling a favorite scent or food, listening to soothing music, or listening to music from their youth. In addition, your loved one may still enjoy nonverbally reminiscing over old familiar photographs or other items from his or her past.