Why Activity is Essential
Activity is essential for a person with Alzheimer’s for the same reason it’s essential to you. Physical activity keeps your body healthy and mental stimulation keeps your brain healthy. Recreational activities lower your stress and keep your life balanced.
Many people don't know just how crucial activity is to the quality of life for someone living with Alzheimer's. Studies show that appropriate activities have a positive effect on the behavioral symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease. "Unlike drug treatments, these treatments have no side effects, cost little and have the potential to significantly enhance life and overall well-being for those living with the disease, as well as their caregivers," Angela Lunde, dementia education specialist at the Mayo Clinic said.
When a person with Alzheimer’s is not engaged, she is likely to develop what doctors call the “Four A’s of Alzheimer’s”: anxiety, aggression, agitation, and apathy. The problem is that many people don’t know what kinds of activities a person with Alzheimer’s can do.
What kinds of Activities Can A Person with Alzheimer’s Do?
Anything that keeps a person engaged physically or cognitively can be beneficial and considered an activity. In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, a person’s memory declines, but he will be able to do much of what he has always done. As the disease progresses, these activities will need to be modified. There are increasingly more activities created specifically for this purpose (our store is filled with them!). Learn how the different stages of Alzheimer's affects cognition.
If your dad used to love the Sunday Crossword Puzzle, but is finding it more and more difficult, try replacing the newspaper with an easier book of crossword puzzles. If he loved to garden, help him plant something and find activities that revolve around plants or gardening. If he is physically unable to help in a garden, you can bring flowers for him to smell and inspire conversation about gardening. Or give him a book filled with beautiful gardens and look at it together.
Our job as a caregiver is to be creative and resourceful. Activities can be found everywhere. Everyday chores can make great activities for a person with dementia. Sorting socks or folding towels keeps a person active but also helps make them feel they are contributing. Ask your mom, “Can you help me fold this laundry while I put it away?”
Age and Stage Appropriate Activities for Alzheimer's
It’s important that activities are appropriate for the stage of Alzheimer's your loved one is in. When a 500 piece puzzle becomes too difficult to put together, its time to select a puzzle with less pieces. A study done at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia found that age and stage appropriate activities lessened agitation and increased positive emotions within only ten minutes. Read about this study in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias.
Make sure to engage all the senses while caring for a person with Alzheimer's. Listening to music has done miraculous things to people suffering from dementia. In her column, Your Health, in USA Today, Kim Painter shared a letter written to her by one of her readers: "A volunteer would come to Dad's nursing home, attired in a straw hat and suspenders, with a banjo, to engage the residents in a sing-along session. My dad always sang the loudest, with great gusto, and despite his memory deficits, he knew the lyrics almost perfectly to the old-time popular songs of the '30s and '40s. ... My dad was happy then. ... It was as if this music brought him back to a realm of cognitive lucidity and anchored him in a firm time and place." Read more about sensory stimulation on our website.
Additional Resources and Articles
Activity + Alzheimer's
Read Angela Lunde's thoughts on why Alzheimer's funding needs to go toward more therapies than just drug therapy."
Giving Alzheimer’s Patients Their Way, Even Chocolate, an article in the NYTimes about caring for a person with Alzheimer's, giving them what they want, including dolls and chocolate. This article makes the case that there aren't really any effective drug treatments for Alzheimer's, but there are lots of alternative therapies that improve mood and behavior. “There’s actually better evidence and more significant results in caregiver interventions than there is in anything to treat this disease so far,” said Lisa P. Gwyther, education director for the Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Duke University.
Touching the Hearts of Dementia Sufferers written by Rosemary Byfield, Epoch Times
Alzheimer's Stops Where Creativity Begins by Angela Lunde of Mayo Clinic
The National Center for Creative Aging is dedicated to fostering an understanding of the vital relationship between creative expression and quality of life for older adults.
Art Awakens Alzheimer's Patients' Minds by Bill Blakemore, ABC News Correspondent
Education and Care, A basic introduction for Art Therapy by The Alzheimer's Foundation of America.
"One of the more positive results we’re seeing is a reduction in the need for psychotropic medication. Music soothes the residents to the point where they actually may not need all of the medications that they needed prior to going on [Music & Memory's] program." - Margaret Rivers, Coler-Goldwater Specialty Hospital & Nursing Facility, NYC. Meet Henry and watch his tear jerking video at Music & Memory. Henry suffered from dementia for a decade and barely said a word to anyone—until Music & Memory set up an iPod program at his nursing home. Donate your old iPod to this program.