If you love someone living with dementia you will know how tricky it can be to get the balance right when it comes to helping with cognitively stimulating activities. But with a bit of thought and preparation, you can add activities into the day that will help people to stay mentally fit that is fun, playful, help to keep the brain cells firing and most importantly help your relationship.
We all need to stay mentally active but after a diagnosis of dementia, this is, even more, the case.
I liken the ‘use it or lose it’ principle to the idea of a large woodland with fire (dementia) at one end. Whilst we are not able to put out the fire, we can plant more trees at the other end of the wood so when the fire eventually comes that far it has more woodland to burn through.
We all need to use our brains, dementia or not and these activities can be fun for anyone and everyone. Just remember to give someone with dementia a little more time, try not to bounce around off-topic and stay focused on connecting.
These activities are ideal for anyone living with mild to moderate dementia
Whilst out on a walk see if you can make it through the alphabet naming things you could find in the sort of place you are walking. Eg. If it’s the beach you might start with Anemone and next might be Beach ball. Don’t get fixated on it having to be exactly right. Just because you’ve never seen a zebra on the beach doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen!
Gather together some scents in jars or bottles. (stick paper around the outside so you can’t see inside.) If you have mint or herbs in your garden bring some in, lavender, even a drop of laundry softener. Your spice rack is another place that is full of interesting smells. You can prepare cards or pieces of paper with the name of the scent on them. Mix them all up and work together to see if you can identify the scents from smell alone. It is really important that all these activities are done together, you will be exploring the activities together. Nobody wants to feel like they are doing something on their own or are being tested. Give space for discovery, don’t get caught up on wrong and right and instead explore ideas and thoughts together. Bring in imagination if you can by asking questions like “Where in the world would you smell this? What would you be doing? Build a picture.
Involvement in the everyday tasks
It may seem obvious but actually, both loved ones and those with dementia tell us that it gets easier and easier for the person living with dementia to do less as things become more challenging. For loved ones, it becomes easier to just get tasks done alone so they can be done quicker. When we approach a task not just as a job that needs doing, but as an opportunity to spend time together and space for cognitive stimulation we have a tendency to enjoy the process more. Let go of the idea that it has to be perfect. Pegging out the washing, drying up the dishes, planning a meal from a recipe book can all be stimulating if we are prepared to slow it right down and enjoy the process.
The Would You Rather game?
This is one of my most favourite games and those of you that have linked with me on social media will know that this is one of my favourite conversations to have. In fact, it’s my new way of making friends.
Find two equally ridiculous and unlikely scenarios that the person you are talking to has to choose between eg. Would you rather have 3 legs or never cut your hair ever again? or would you rather have to swap your eyes for ears or your ears for eyes?
What’s great about these conversations is that they usually end in more questions eg. where would the leg be? Lots of fun and abstract thinking moves people away from having to recall facts or connect to memories which is a challenge when living with dementia. These conversations are very much in the moment and use nothing but imagination, humour and nonsense which makes them really accessible if they interest the person.
This is another activity you have to be prepared to throw yourself into too. You don’t need to have ever picked up a pencil before. Choose something to draw and give it a go. All you have to do is try and draw what you actually see rather than what you think you see. There is no right or wrong. This is once again about the process. An activity like this uses the right-hand side of the brain and it’s great for us to do that sometimes. The left side of our brain controls thinking and analysis. Switching this off for a while is good for everyone.
Remember all of these activities are great to do with someone else. It’s the human connection here that is key.
Please let us know how you get on!
If you would like to find out more about our virtual group therapy program for people living with mild to moderate dementia and their families please contact us