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I sometimes get questions about what family members can do when they visit a loved one who has dementia. They may feel that a “normal” conversation is difficult to have and they may question how they can connect and maintain the relationship with that person, particularly if they’re in the later stages of the disease.
Here are a few tried and true ideas that helped me when I would visit my mom at the nursing home:
1. Listen to music together. If your loved one had a favorite artist or genre when they were younger, start with that. You may be surprised by how they respond to familiar music. If you’re not entirely sure what they like, try a few different types of music to help you find the right fit. If you’re still not having any luck, try playing hymns or even Christmas music (regardless of the time of year). Many people know the more popular songs by heart, and just hearing the music or lyrics might spark their memory for the song.
2. Bring a fidget quilt or toy. Anxiety or agitation sometimes presents itself in the form of fidgeting, and some dementia patients really struggle when they don’t have anything to do with their hands. A fidget like this Playable ART Ball or the Tangle Therapy Relax might be worth trying, particularly for those who have some good hand strength. Others might need something softer to the touch or gentler on the hands, in which case fidget quilts like TwiddleClassic Therapy Aid or Restless Remedy Fidget Blanket might do the trick.
3. Read a book together. This can be an enjoyable activity for both you and your loved one. You may want to read something that they’re familiar with or something completely new to them. Either way, try to make sure that the reading level is appropriate and watch for signs that your loved one is actually interested in the content. Stick with topics that match their interests and don’t be afraid to change things up if you find they’re not engaged in the first book you select.
4. Play a game. Depending on the stage of dementia, games can be a great way to spend time with a loved one. You may opt to play a family favorite like a certain card game or board game. Or you may need a game with simple rules and an easy-to-remember objective. If your loved one enjoys playing catch and is able to read small print, thumball can make a great activity. First you need to find the right type of thumball for the players (try this Shaped By Our Past Thumball, which features questions about the players’ personal history). Players sit close to each other and toss/pass the thumball back and forth, answering questions on the ball as they choose (ie: the question touching your left thumb). Even a simple game like “I Spy” can be an easy way to pass time together.
5. Have a spa day. You can go as in-depth with this one as you want. A good place to start is with painting nails or giving a hand massage. Your loved one might also want their hair and/or makeup done, so either bring the goods to do this yourself, or bring them to a salon where you can have a professional do it. You know your loved one best, so if you think they may become uncomfortable partway through, it may be best to stick with an in-home spa day.
If you have ideas that have worked for you and a loved one, we’d love to hear them! Comment below or send us an email at email@example.com.