Quality of life through activities with Dementia

With more people developing Dementia and the numbers forecast to triple by 2050, it is necessary that we learn more about this umbrella term.  There are various forms of Dementia, but one thing has been proven, with regards to non-medicinal solutions, there are very simple and effective activities that one can implement to give quality of life to the loved one with Dementia.

A simple way to start is to focus on the senses and movement.  If one thinks of each sense and what memories are locked up in them, it is a simple and easy place to start.

Sight – something that unlocks memories and feelings are photographs.  Photographs of loved ones, of nature scenes, of favourite places, of the loved one in happy times, of era-related cars, movies or places, of era related fashion, favourite holiday destinations, graduation ceremonies, weddings or similar occasions.  Watching old movies or musicals from the time when the person with Dementia was a teenager or young adult could really unlock very fond memories.  For more advanced Dementia, implementing sensory blankets and other sensory stimulation activities are recommended.

Touch – baking a bread, muffins or scones, assisting the person with Dementia to measure out the ingredients, mix the dough, put in the oven, set the timer and then the smell of what is baking and tasting the freshly baked product can awaken fond memories of childhood days or the like.  It is important to assist the person with the entire process so that they also feel empowered in this activity. Planting a herb or flower from seed, watering the plant, seeing it grow (caring for it) and then (in the case of a herb) tasting the leaves.  Folding towels, scented play dough, buttons to sort, drawing and colouring in, are all examples of simple activities to follow.  Touching an animal also has great results like trained therapy dogs, and again the use of sensory blankets.

Taste – introducing various tastes like sour, sweet, bitter, salty foods to establish whether the person with Dementia can still taste the different tastes.  Different textures can be used, also have them slice something like a banana and then taste it.  Take note of tastes that the person doesn’t like.  Herbal teas and freshly brewed coffee are also great to taste.  Be sure that caffeine-intake is reduced from before lunchtime, especially if the person struggles to sleep at night.

Smell –  again the use of freshly baked goods or freshly brewed coffee can awaken good and treasured memories.  Aromatherapy oils can be used with great success, not only for smell but also for calming qualities for example a gentle hand massage with Lavender oil.  Fresh flowers or freshly cut herbs and also different spices can be used to trigger memories and to get the person with Dementia to remember what the item is called and maybe even a recipe they used it in.  Suntan oil can also take one back to a treasured sea holiday and introducing sea sand and shells can be a great trigger for happy memories.

Hearing – this specific sense is especially powerful.  Scientific research has shown that the used of personalised playlists per individual can bring back great memories while also creating some clarity of mind for the person with Dementia.  It is important to do this according to the researched methodology so as to get the best possible outcome.  Music Therapy with a trained professional can be a good activity, drumming or playing of musical instruments in a group where possible, watching classical music dvd’s (for example André Rieu), the sound of ocean waves or waterfalls, birdsong and wind chimes can be used.  The use of sleep music can also assist the person with Dementia to have a good night’s rest or at least a less restless night.  Folk songs from the person’s childhood and music they loved in their younger years can be a great escape for the person with Dementia.

Movement – it is important for the person living with Dementia to keep on moving and guidance about appropriate exercises can be sourced.  Sitting down and standing up out of a chair is essential as this is a daily activity that still keeps the core working and can assist in these muscles not getting weak as any older person will then become a fall risk.  Any type of movement / exercise should only be done under strict supervision and appropriate to the person’s physical abilities.  A rocking chair can provide soothing movement for the person with Dementia if they may become agitated or anxious.  Assisted walking, dancing to older music, active and passive exercises, doing moderate exercises while washing / bathing, breathing exercises to encourage deep inhalation, cutting out of pictures and gluing them in a collage, and singing to old songs while doing coordinated movements with it are all simple and effective movement examples that can be done anywhere.

It is important for Care Facilities, family and friends to learn more about the non-medicinal possibilities that can be followed to enhance the person with Dementia’s quality of life so that they can also age with dignity while still feeling purposeful and that they can experience happy feelings.  Although Dementia cannot be cured or reversed – although exciting new research is moving us closer in the foreseeable future – there is a lot that can be done to assist the Dementia patient and to understand this umbrella term better.