Yes! People with memory loss can join support groups! And they should! As I’m sure you know, having memory changes is a huge adjustment, and for those who still have insight into these changes, meeting with others who understand what they’re going through can be a great way to get support, feel validated, not have to worry about “hiding” any problems, and learn tips and tricks to keep living life as fully as possible. Where to find such groups? Your local hospital, community center, senior, or local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association are great places to start.
Zip balls, swoosh balls, zoom balls…whatever “brand” you use, they’re all an equally fun way to get a little upper body exercise. Just grab the handles, walk away from your partner till the ropes are taut and then pass the ball from one end to the other by moving your arms outward while your partner moves theirs together. This simple, rhythmic activity is easy for people with even very limited memory to do. According an occupational therapist friend of mine, these motions help elps build coordination and arm strength, so that’s a great bonus! You can buy these types of toys at most “big box” stores or toy stores, or online here or here!
You probably know that pet therapy is an emerging area of research and application in care of people with dementia. While therapy dogs have special training and certification, any well-behaved dog cat, or rabbit can potentially bring a little joy and a lot benefits to a person with memory loss. While companionship is an obvious benefit, pets may also help with agitation, depression, and anxiety. It’s not uncommon to watch someone transition from emotionless to animated or from agitated to calm when a pet enters the room, especially if it triggers pleasant memories. However, keep in mind that the opposite reaction is possible as well!
Of course, to some caregivers, the idea of adding another thing to care for, no matter how cute and cuddly, sounds pretty overwhelming, so don’t feel as if you have to adopt a pet to get the benefits. Even having a friend bring a well-behaved pet for a visit is a great option. Of course, it’s important to be mindful of the pet’s temperament and energy level. In general, too much jumping and/or excessive barking may do more harm than good. Also, be sure that the animal is a good “match” for the person with memory loss. A 90 pound woman who’s unsteady on her feet probably shouldn’t walk an excitable St. Bernard; someone with thin skin and on Coumadin might want to stay away from a cat with sharp claws; someone who throws things when angry should probably be supervised around a small yorkie…you get the idea. Of course, animals are unpredictable, as can be people with dementia, so supervision if probably wise, especially in the beginning while everyone is getting to know each other.
Other tips for success:
1. People in the later stages of the disease may respond better to animals that remind them of animals that remind them of former pets. But be warned: they might not like having to leave the “family dog” behind when they leave!
2. People love to feed animals, so be sure to have appropriate treats available for the person with dementia to feed the pet or you might find that they get a lot of people food!
3. Even those in the late stages of the disease can enjoy petting a soft dog, cat, rabbit, gerbil, etc. Even just hearing a cat purr across the room can be soothing, so don’t feel like the animal has to be right next to the person to have a positive effect.
4. Don’t forget to reminisce!
More information about pet therapy can be found at:
Chinese Checkers is another one of those games that is great for people with memory loss because it’s likely to be familiar and the rules preserved in long term memory. If, however, you need a refresher, there is a great tutorial (with pictures!) here.
It may be easier for someone with memory loss to use a simplified board such as the one below
This two man board can be purchased online here.
These fun tops work just like any other top toy, but with a fun extra-they draw as they spin! Just lay down a sufficiently large piece of paper and watch the top trace its path as it’s spins! It’s fun to experiment with spinning it faster or slower to see how the design changes, which might help keep someone with a short attention span engaged longer than if it was just a normal top toy. You can also use the resulting art as part of another activity-maybe making cards or a mobile.
Spinning tops can be bought online or at your local toy store.
Puppy Chow, also known as “Muddy Mix” or “Monkey Munch”, is a super easy, super delicious treat. But be warned: This recipe is NOT for the diabetics among us! I like this recipe as an activity for people with memory loss because it’s pretty simple, can be done without the stove, and it’s not a big deal if the ingredients aren’t measured exactly. The recipe, courtesy of Food.com, is as follows:
9 cups Chex cereal (any kind)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, melted
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 -2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1. Measure cereal in large bowl and set aside.
2. Microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter for 1 minute on high.
3. Stir and cook for 30 seconds longer or until smooth.
4. Add vanilla.
5. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until coated.
6. Pour mixture into large Ziploc bag and add powdered sugar.
7. Shake until well coated.
8. Spread on waxed paper to cool.
9. Eat. Store in Ziploc bags or large sealed bowl (as if it will last that long!).
Of course, this activity can be modified for someone in almost any stage of dementia. Someone with only mild memory loss may be able to do all the steps independently. Someone the moderate stages may be able to measure all the ingredients and stir/shake as needed, but may need help remembering the order of the steps or need help operating the microwave. Someone in the late stages of the disease may be able to stir or shake after seeing a short demonstration or some hand-over-hand assistance.
Be sure to reminisce as you cook. You could ask about favorite sweet treats, what they liked to cook (or what they hated to cook!). Their children’s favorite snacks, how they learned to cook, etc.
Summer is officially in full swing, so that means it’s beach/pool time! Swimming is great exercise because the water offer resistance, yet it’s low impact. Those with memory loss can certainly enjoy a day of swimming (or wading, or just sticking a toe in!) in the water. As with any activity, you’ll want to make appropriate precautions based on the person’s level of impairment. This can range from just making sure they wear extra sunscreen, as many medications make you more prone to burning in the sun, to chosing a less crowded location where teh person is less likely to get overwhelmed, to making sure someone is always providing supervision for safety. Whether you choose a beach or a pool; to swim laps or doggies paddle; wear swim trunks or a speedo, taking some time to enjoy the water can be a fun way to break out of your usual daily routine.
While you’re out, be sure to ask questions that encourage the person to reminisce. You might ask:
How did you learn to swim?
What is your favorite memory involving swimming/the water?
What did bathing suits look like when you were growing up? What do you think about today’s styles?