Alzheimer’s patients are high maintenance. Caregivers are often overwhelmed and may need help but allowing the television to become an electronic babysitter can be detrimental to both children and adults. It is important to find things to do, especially activities that exercise their minds. Projects and games should be kept short – 15 to 20 minutes – because Alzheimer’s patients have trouble staying focused for longer periods of time.
These activities help family caregivers of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients integrate child and eldercare. Millions of Americans provide free care for a dementia patient, many of them in the home. If the old adage, “The family that plays together, stays together,” is true, building intergenerational relationships benefits the entire family.
If competitive games with winners and losers are too dramatic for the patient or the children, avoid the competitive aspect and simply play for fun. Remind children that the primary purpose of these activities is not to win but rather to exercise the brain the same way that sports exercise the body.
Card Games for Alzheimer Patients
The following activities are useful for children and their friends of any age.
Match Game (2-4 players): Place an even number of shuffled cards face-down in a rectangular pattern. Players take turns turning over two at a time, trying to find a matching pair. If the cards match, the player collects them and tries again. If they do not match, they are turned face-down again and left in the same place. When all of the cards have been matched, the player with the most cards wins. To make the game non-competitive, simply celebrate the team’s (players’) completion of finding the pairs.
War (2-4 players): Divide the deck evenly by the number of players. Each player takes one stack of face-down cards, but does not look at them. All players turn their top cards over at the same time. The highest card “wins” and keeps all of the face-up cards. When there is a tie, the tied players place two cards (still face-down) in front of their stacks and turn the third card over. The higher card wins the face-up cards of all of the players. When a player finishes his or her stack of cards, they are shuffled and placed face down to resume play. The game ends when one player has all of the cards. To make the game shorter, take some cards out of the deck. For example, take out all of the cards numbered 2, 3, and 4, before dealing them.
Other “Games” Suitable for Children and Alzheimer’s Patients
Create an indoor or outdoor scavenger hunt by making a list of simple-to-find items. If able, have the patient do it independently and when successful, he or she will feel a sense of accomplishment. An indoor hunt may include any items that are usually kept in a particular place. Items that are not used on a daily basis will be more difficult to find. “Finding” things is a good memory game but before beginning, be sure that each item on the list is in the home. The following list is an example:
- a soup spoon
- a pencil
- a red rubber band
- a paintbrush
- a fabric softener sheet for the dryer
- a paperclip
An outdoor scavenger hunt is a good activity for times the caregiver wants to be outside but not necessarily interacting with the patient. Items from nature are great for outdoor scavenger hunts. A typical list may include:
- a bird feather
- a red leaf
- a small, white stone
- a yellow flower
- a twig or stick in the shape of a letter
- a piece of string
- an insect
Alzheimer’s patient caregiver and retired kindergarten teacher, Barbara Turnbough says, “Remember to keep each activity short. Adults with Alzheimer’s have short attention spans as do young children.”
Talking to Alzheimer’s Sufferers
When doing the routine, daily tasks – dressing, bathing, helping around the house – talk about the task. Use questions and answers to keep the patient fully engaged and on task. To increase the fun, use rhyming words and encourage the patient to think of other words that rhyme. For example, “What’s the date? Are we late? Don’t forget the fishing bait!” Nonsense can be fun!
Read simple stories to children and dementia patients – from the newspaper, from mail or the Internet – and ask them simple questions about what happened. The goal is to get a patient to talk and think, so caregivers should be encouraging and supportive regardless of the accuracy of the responses.
As dementia progresses, patients often talk less and some withdraw completely, neither speaking nor responding to external stimuli. Anything that helps keep the communication channels open is a good thing and visits with children can brighten the day for an older person. As the quality of a loved one’s life declines, caregivers must try to focus on what can be done, rather than be discouraged over the things their patients can no longer do.
Journal Keeping Activity
Since Alzheimer disease affects memory, journal keeping activity will be beneficial for patients of Alzheimer and caregivers alike. Forming the habit of writing in a journal or calendar will work best for the patients if they start early in the disease process. The caregiver may also want to start one for themselves, since caretakers of Alzheimer’s patients also begin to forget things, usually because of the additional stress encountered.
Important notes for an Alzheimer’s journal include:
- times and amounts of medication, and a place to check when taken
- additional medical notes
- appointments and daily activities
- important phone numbers
- personal information and address (even directions if necessary)
- daily, weekly and monthly calendar
- a place for helpers or other caretakers to write notes
All of these activities can be fun, and provide an exhilarating experience. Furthermore, some of these activities shall also help in keeping your loved one as independent as possible for as long as possible. In addition to these activities, it is important to encourage your loved one to continue doing the things that create joy in life. Making simple adjustments may be necessary to maintain certain activities, but doing so is well worth the effort.