Today’s guest post is from Leann Reynolds, president of Homewatch CareGivers, an international home care provider. The organization is well known for its development of Pathways to Memory — a specialized dementia care program. Leann can be followed at @hwcaregivers.
Simple mental stimulation exercises can improve your loved one’s self-esteem, promote sense of purpose and, ultimately, enhance their quality of life. These exercises can be a fun activity that will help you and your loved one cope with the onset of the disease’s symptoms. In addition, helping your family member with mental engagement activities can be a rewarding experience and a quality time you will cherish for years to come.
The goal of these activities is to boost your loved one’s confidence, so make sure that they are executed in a stress-free environment: remove distractions, stay calm and hold back from correcting the one with dementia.
Here are a few exercises to get you started.
Attention & Concentration
As dementia progresses, those afflicted tend to get easily distracted and lose their concentration faster. To help your loved one complete their daily activities, such as making the bed or finishing their dinner, consider engaging them with these meaningful exercises:
- The Concentration card game (also known as Memory). Lay out a deck of cards and ask your loved one to remember the location of pairs, then flip the cards face down and ask them to find the matches.
- If the game of concentration is too advanced for your loved one, try to play Opposite flash cards. In this activity, ask your loved one to physically match a set of cards based on its opposite, like “cat/dog” or “sun/rain.”
Also, feel free to create your own, homemade cards based on your loved one’s interests.
Name & Face Recognition
As a caregiver, your loved one’s inability to recognize family members and friends can be the most heartbreaking part of dementia’s progression. Although this memory deterioration cannot be stopped, there are certain exercises that can help to maintain name and face recognition for as long as possible.
- Share photos of family members and friends with your loved one. In later stages of dementia, when your loved one struggles to recognize their names, clearly label each photo with the person’s name and relationship. You can also use iPad apps, such as Photo Labeler, as an easy way to label your digital family pictures.
Object Identification & Function
You can also stimulate your loved one’s ability to recall how to use household objects through visual clues and touch.
- Invite your loved one to walk through their daily tasks in various rooms. For example, ask them to show you how to use a toothbrush when you are in the bathroom, or make a cup of tea in the kitchen. (This exercise might be not appropriate for those in early stages of dementia.)
Encourage your loved one to execute basic daily tasks on their own as much as possible. Being able to perform everyday activities, like brushing hair or getting dressed, independently can increase your loved one’s confidence and self-esteem.
The key to success here is repetition and consistency. Mental engagement activities should become a routine: try to have sessions several times a week, repeating the same exercise on a weekly basis. Limit your sessions to 20 minutes as your loved one may become worn out or frustrated if you are trying to keep their attention for much longer.
Keeping your loved one with dementia focused and engaged during these exercises can be difficult. Offer encouragement and praise for any efforts they’ve made.
Do not correct or criticize, no matter how frustrating it can get. As a caregiver, you might be inclined to let them know that they are wrong – don’t. Your loved one is already trying very hard, so cheer them as they go through each challenge. If your loved one fails to understand the task, take the blame for not explaining it correctly, or express that you understand how challenging this exercise is.
Always treat your family member with respect and love. Remember that when factual memories fade away, your support and kindness will keep their emotional memories alive.
You can find more practical dementia care tips here. If you need assistance with mental engagement for your loved one, consider hiring a professional caregiver trained to provide specialized dementia care.