Social Interaction: Key to Keeping Alzheimer’s/ Dementia Patients Engaged

How do you keep a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia engaged and positive? The disease, which greatly diminishes mental capacity, can make planning activities extremely difficult. Ranae Pool, Activity Director, at a nursing home in rural Nebraska, finds focusing on social interactions improves the day to day life of residents.

“Most of what we do is social. We do one on one and we do sensory. Something they could touch or smell,” said Pool. One of their recent activities involved a watermelon feed that was open to the community. A monthly men’s breakfast also helps male residents connect to other men in the community. Activities aimed towards the senses - sight, touch, smell, hearing - can be very beneficial for residents who suffer from Alzheimer’s and Dementia. For example, one volunteer brings in what’s called “flubber,” which is similar to silly putty. The residents also benefit from one on one activities.

“Once you get to know the resident, you figure out what they like. A lot of times the resident wants you to come in and just sit around and chat or read the paper to them. Or do their fingernails, that’s a big one. They really like word searches and word finds,” said Pool. Many of the residents enjoy group activities like bingo and card games.

However, Pool says sometimes a resident who has Dementia or Alzheimer’s may not have the same state of mind. For example, one resident feels like she is a twelve year old girl in her mind. So the activities for her have to be tailored for that age range. In fact, staying simple is often good for patients who are suffering from the debilitating disease.

“My biggest thing about Alzheimer’s is you don’t have to make it hard. Simple is best. Sometimes we overthink it, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes just sitting around and chit chatting is what they enjoy the most,” said Pool. She says finding out what a patient enjoyed in the past can be helpful as well. For example, one resident at the home used to enjoy working with tools. So volunteers will set up a work stations allowing him to screw a bolt on.  

Individuals with Alzheimer’s tend to have limited concentration and difficulty following directions according to Susan Lonn, Executive Director of Madonna Adult Day Care. Caregivers should match an activity to the patient’s abilities. Some examples of simple activities include tossing a ball, washing silverware, planting a tree, arranging fresh flowers, and taking care of a fish tank.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends taking the following factors into consideration when planning activities for loved ones who have Alzheimer’s and Dementia:

  • Be careful to observe what makes the person happy, anxious, distracted, or irritable. Pay special attention to what the person enjoys.
  • Keep the person’s skills in mind. Perhaps they used to enjoy playing a piano. Find a keyboard and simple songs for them to play.
  • Be aware of physical problems. What are their eyes and hands like? Do they have limited mobility?
  • Encourage involvement in daily activities. Things like setting the table, folding laundry, and watering plants can give patients a sense of success and feeling valued.

If someone you love is suffering from Alzheimer’s or Dementia, look for someone who can provide in home care. Above all, find help and a support system to help manage the stress that often comes with the disease. Try to remember what the loved one used to enjoy and find pleasure in. Keep in mind this person is feeling frustrated, afraid, confused, and sometimes angry because of their situation.

- a the word changes contributor

Antoinette Rodney

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