Social Distancing: Activities you and Your Loved One can do
Updated: Mar 21
Governments around the world have requested that visitors avoid care facilities and avoid contact with elderly people. It is best for people to listen to the experts and do their best to avoid elderly people, however, I recognize that this is not a possibility for many caregivers, some of which even have an elderly person living in the house with them. For caregivers who can’t avoid contact with their elderly loved one, the question becomes, “how are we going to get through this?” Social distancing doesn’t mean that you and your loved one need to sit around and twiddle your thumbs all day. There are plenty of activities that you can do with your loved one while following the recommendations of government agencies. Participating in stimulating activities helps Alzheimer’s patients maintain emotional connections with loved ones, reduces anxiety, increases engagement, and may even help bring back memories. Being locked in the house all day provides an opportunity to explore different activities with your loved one.
Card Games The great thing about a deck of cards is that you can come up with activities that are as complex or as simple as needed for the person you are caring for. I have heard stories of dementia patients playing solitaire and blackjack into the late stages of the disease. If your loved one isn’t able to play games like this, you can get as basic as sorting the deck by suite, color, or number. If you look hard enough, you can find a way to adapt your favorite card games to the abilities of your loved one. If you can’t, then make one up!
Have Them Help With Chores Asking the person you are caring for to help you out around the house can actually be mutually beneficial. You will get the obvious reward of the chores being done, and they will be rewarded with the feeling of a job-well-done. Even the most mindless chores for someone without dementia can be stimulating for someone with dementia. For example, after you wash dishes, you could ask your loved one to help you dry them and put them away. Sorting silverware and finding the correct cabinets for the different dishes will stimulate the brain of a person living with dementia. Folding towels and sweeping are other household tasks that you can “delegate” to your loved one with dementia.
Listen to Music, Look at Photos, and Put Together Puzzles These are among the most popular recommendations for activities for people living with dementia. I believe that they are popular because they work. I also feel that there is untapped potential in these activities. Rather than simply looking at a photo album or dancing to some music, have you considered looking through a photo album from your loved one’s wedding while listening to their wedding soundtrack, or putting together a puzzle of Main Street in their hometown while listening to popular music from their era? Personalized multi-sensory stimulation provides a greater probability of a partial reconnection of the brain’s synapses. Establishing one of these reconnections will result in a great deal of joy for your loved one, and you might even stir up a memory.
Crafts Crafts are a great hands on activity for people living with dementia. What I like most about crafts is that they provide a tangible output. When a card game is over, the cards go back in the box. After admiring the last page of a photo album, the book goes back on the shelf. When they finish their craft, they will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Before St. Patrick’s day, we made a pot of gold out of a paper plate with our residents. Instructions for this craft can be found here (we used glue sticks instead of staples and a solid piece of gold paper rather than cutting out individual chips). The residents really enjoyed this craft and there was a high level of engagement.
A friend also provided me with some information on how to make twiddlemuffs, which can be found here. Twiddlemuffs are hand warmers that have other things attached to fidget with to provide stimulation for people living with dementia. The provided link encourages readers to knit their own hand warmers, but if you can’t knit (I certainly can’t) then you can improvise by cutting up an old scarf or sweater.
Family Tree Poster Board Get a poster board and build out your family tree. You can even complete it with pictures if you have them available. This will be a meaningful keepsake that your loved one can look to for reassurance of all the people who love and care about them. You might even get lucky and bring back a memory when putting the family tree together!
The most important thing for people to focus on right now is staying safe, but that doesn’t mean that the world must completely stop for you and your loved one. There are plenty of engaging activities that you and your loved one can do together while social distancing. As terrible as the current situation may be, the reality is that this is still time we will never get back, so caregivers need to get creative in how they make this time meaningful.