5 Tips for Enjoying Time with Loved Ones with Dementia
By Jennifer Stelter, PsyD, CDP
The Alden Network
Spending time together as family, is priceless. However, sometimes this can be a challenging for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or memory care needs and their loved ones, as they may not be able to communicate with each other as well as they used to, share their thoughts and engage with each other, or feel comfortable with one another. Families spending time with someone who has memory care needs can help themselves and their loved ones enjoy those times even more with a little preparation.
Below are 5 holistic ways to engage with family members who may have memory challenges using Habilitation strategies. Habilitation means utilizing a person’s abilities to connect to others, bringing about meaning and quality in their lives, and staying independent for as long as possible. The key to habilitation with people who have memory care needs is through their emotional connections with others. Everyone senses and feels emotions. Each of the following 5 strategies can elicit emotional reactions and therefore establish meaningful connections and communication.
When visiting a loved one with memory care needs, bring a dog, cat, or birds if they are friendly and can be transported. The unconditional love that pets offers a wonderful connection to someone who may not always be able to fully communicate. It also provides tactile, visual and auditory stimulation and can improve mood and increase physical activity. Furry friends also assist as conversation starters. If a real pet is not available or may be overwhelming for your loved one, try the realistic, life-like puppies or kittens offered at Prism Health Care – www.PrismHC.com/MemoryCare.
During visits, provide your loved one with an object he/she can hold to reduce confusion and fear. This can rewire the brain to form new connections, called neuroplasticity (Freitas, 2015), which helps ground the person in the moment and reduces confusion and fear. A great product that can be used is any small exercise object, like a stress ball, hand exerciser, or tangled object. Objects such as these provides tactile stimulation, assists with manual dexterity, provides physical activity and can improve mood.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that typically occurs around the winter months. There are ways to minimize or prevent depression and withdrawal, such as taking Vitamin D regularly, exercising, and maintaining a set routine. Sunlight also can help ward off depression. But how can your loved one get sunlight during Chicago’s winter months? Light therapy machines have been developed to provide effective relief from SAD. A light box is a lightweight desktop device that provides enough light as standing outdoors on a clear sunny day. Light therapy has been shown to regulate a person’s body clock, increase melatonin to assist with your loved one’s sleep cycle, improve mood, and even reduce pain. A person, with assistance, can get the nourishment requirements they need to reap all of the benefits of light therapy in just a few minutes each day.
As cognitive loss progresses, your loved one may become more agitated and prone to anger. Such behavior can hinder the desire to visit and make communication awkward. To address these symptoms, you may want to think about utilizing aromatherapy during visits. Aromatherapy is the safe and effective use of essential oils and hydrosols to provide healing of the mind, body, and spirit (Janssen, 2009). Lavender is a scent that can bring about a calming sensation. If your loved one is not fond of this scent, there are several others that can be tried. Aromatherapy can also be used to entice appetite, reduce anxiety, help with sleep, increase energy and much more.
Music has found to have many benefits for those with memory care needs. If your loved one likes music, playing songs they know can help improve mood and increase awareness and clear thinking. It’s best to play upbeat music in the morning, music with no words during social engagement times, and bi-harmonic music (i.e., single tune music like a violin or harp) toward late afternoon and early evening to reduce potential signs of sun downing, common with those who have Alzheimer’s disease. Get ready to play “Singing in the Rain” and other notable favorites!
Utilizing holistic techniques may enhance the quality of visits for you and your loved one. Think about reminiscing about the past together and share photos. Remember the good times and hold onto happy memories.
If you are interested in any of the memory care products mentioned, please contact Prism Health Care at 800-493-7200 or visit www.PrismHC.com/MemoryCare. Prism’s Memory Care Retail Showroom is located in Schaumburg.