A renowned entertainer once said that magic is “just spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect.” He was talking about creating magic in the entertainment industry. I work in a far less glitzy business – the eldercare industry. But I smile when I read the quote because a client of mine once remarked to me, marveling at how much better equipped he felt to manage his father’s dementia symptoms, “What are you, some kind of Alzheimer’s wizard?”
About 1 in 9 age 65 and older (10.7%) has Alzheimer’s.
As we look at our loved ones who are navigating Alzheimer’s, it can feel as if we’re looking at a completely different person. They no longer tell us the same corny jokes and they can’t give us their classic life advice that they seem to have for every situation. But this doesn’t mean that we should stop engaging with them on these topics, if anything we should do so more often, and with the topics and activities that they love.
People living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia will progressively lose their cognitive function; however, they will continue to have abilities at some level throughout most of the disease. Providing enriching and stimulating activities is essential for maintaining physical, emotional and mental health. Encouraging them to do as much as they can at their current skill level promotes independence, slows their decline, provides a daily structure, and gives them a feeling of self-worth and purpose. This includes total assistance with eating, dressing, using the bathroom and all other daily self-care tasks. Activities can help reconnect the person living with Alzheimer’s disease to daily lifer.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Current estimates are that about 5.8 million people in the United States have Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, including 5.6 million aged 65 and older and about 200,000 under age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. (1)
The rate of progression for Alzheimer’s disease varies widely. On average, people with Alzheimer’s disease live between three and 11 years after diagnosis, but some survive 20 years or more. The degree of impairment at diagnosis can affect life expectancy. Untreated vascular risk factors such as hypertension are associated with a faster rate of progression of Alzheimer’s disease. (2)
3 tips for caretakers to help their loved ones focus on activities they love and their importance.
Tip #1: Tap into their senses
Offer activities that include everyday tasks as well as outings, projects and entertainment, stimulating the 5 senses; sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell as much as possible. Tapping into the 5 senses will help trigger memories for the person and therefore keeps their brain active.
Tip #2: Connect with their life’s work
Individualize activities to draw on past interests and skills. Choose activities that recall a person’s former occupation or position in life, such as a homemaker. Keep activities short, and try to match the activity to the individual person’s skill level. If the task is too difficult for them or overwhelming, this can lead to frustration, agitation, and even aggression.
Tip #3: Be patient and enjoy it with them
Help the person with Alzheimer’s disease by initiating the activity and then offer cues and prompts to help them do the activity. It’s much more important for them to enjoy the process of doing the activity than producing a wonderful craft or winning at a game.
Alzheimer’s disease typically progresses slowly in three general stages: early, middle and late (sometimes referred to as mild, moderate and severe in a medical context). Since Alzheimer’s affects people in different ways, each person may experience symptoms — or progress through the stages — differently.
Lisa Skinner, author of Truth Lies & Alzheimer’s