Tips on how to keep aging loved ones active

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Most of us have been touched by Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia – or as we used to say, old age. It’s more than old age, however, and the more we all know about it, the better lives we – and those with the disease – will lead.

Most of the people affected are over 65, but there are many who have early onset dementia.

This morning, I got to wondering what it was actually like to experience the disease, personally. The website, www.alzheimers.org, has a great deal of information on the various forms and effects of Alzheimer’s and other dementia forms. After reading for quite a while, it’s given me some new ideas for talking with friends and family who are affected with this terrible disease. Much of the following is from www.alzheimers.org. Check it out.

Dementia can cause seniors to withdraw from activities, family and friends. But maintaining those relationships and interests reduces the effects of severe cognitive impairment, leading to a better quality of life. If they had a busy, full life before, they may do better by being busy now – although the tasks may be different.

The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease impairs behavior, memory and thought. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s accounts for 50-80 percent of dementia cases. While memory loss may start out mild in early stages, the disease worsens over time. Eventually, it can restrict a person’s ability to carry on a conversation or even respond to people or surroundings.

Keeping aging loved ones active in hobbies and interests that gave them pleasure in the past is important after a disease diagnosis. These stimulating activities for Alzheimer’s help stir memories, foster emotional connections with others, encourage self-expression and lessen the anxiety and irritability that Alzheimer’s may bring feel.

What activities best suit people with Alzheimer’s? That depends on the individual.

As AARP.org describes, it is important to create meaningful activities, not just ones that fill time. Consider interests they had in the past, knowing that some activities may need to be modified for safety or practicality. Keep in mind that Alzheimer’s affects behavior and senses in addition to memory. So, activities that a person once enjoyed may become overwhelming or even frustrating now.

Suggested activities include:

• Sing songs or play music.

• Do arts and crafts, such as painting or knitting. Keep tools and patterns simple.

• Organize household or office items, particularly if the person used to take pleasure in organizational tasks.

• Clean around the house. Sweep the patio, wipe the table, fold towels or try other household tasks that help the person feel a sense of accomplishment.

• Tend the garden or visit a botanical garden.

• Read the newspaper.

• Look at books the person used to enjoy.

• Cook or bake simple recipes together.

• Work on puzzles.

• Watch family videos.

If you sense resistance to an activity, take a break. You can try again later, or ask your loved one how the activity can be changed to make it more enjoyable for them.

Remember to concentrate on the process of an activity and not the results. It does not matter if you never get the puzzle put together. What matters is that the time spent was enjoyed and made them feel useful.

Kay Soldier welcomes reader ideas for column topics of interest to seniors. She can be reached by email at [email protected], or write to 114 Tandberg Trail, Windham, ME 04062.

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