One of the great challenges for those with dementia is the loss of short-term memory, while older memories are easy to access. To engage with those struggling with dementia, try to provide new activities that can tap into old and happy memories. Here are several ways you can keep the spirits high for those dealing with dementia.
While a person suffering from dementia may not be able to care for a pet on a daily basis, petting a dog can be a very calming experience while allowing the person to tap into memories of their favorite pets. Bringing in a therapy dog that is both calm and cuddly is an excellent way to engage with someone with dementia and will benefit the person and the pet.
The memories made with music are deeply ingrained in the brain. While someone with dementia may struggle to remember what they read on the previous page, the lyrics from songs will come back years after the tune was memorized.
When working with an individual with dementia, it’s important to study up on their personal preferences. For example, some people find classical music calming, while others find it off-putting. Some individuals will love listening to dance music while others will find it too agitating. Church music can be a terrific option for someone who was either a choir member or a regular attendee at their church.
Many with dementia love to handle toys that thrilled them when they were small. For example, a woman with dementia will love cuddling and singing to a doll. A man with dementia might love working on a table with a train set or cars. There are many people with dementia who can’t get on the floor to play with toys, so be ready to prepare a play space on a soft-surface table where toys can be pushed around, stacked and tipped over.
Movies or Television Shows
Playing older movies or television shows can help those with dementia to tap into their young adult or even childhood memories. For example, a movie featuring a famous actor or actress can be enough to start a memory trail or a spider’s web of memories. Watch a spaghetti western or a dance musical with a person with dementia, then look for images of movie posters that feature a famous performer and encourage the person with dementia to read the move name off the poster.
Often, a person with dementia will stop making their own choices or receive so much automatic care that they don’t have to make choices. To stay verbal, it’s critically important that the person be encouraged to make choices. For example, if you fixed tuna salad for lunch, encourage the person with dementia to choose if they want crackers or toast. Offer an apple and ask if it should be cut into quarters or eighths. This process requires the individual with dementia to verbalize their desires.