With an estimated 400,000 people living with dementia in Australia, chances are we know someone directly affected by the disease. It significantly impacts a person’s thinking and behaviour, and their ability to perform everyday tasks. While it can feel devastating for families and their loved ones as they adjust, there is much we can do to help those who live with dementia to find purpose and enjoy a better quality of life.
Feeling happy and engaged makes a huge difference to our physical and mental health outcomes. For those living with dementia, being able to participate in activities that provide fulfilment is important. When they complete a task and feel a sense of success, it creates a flow-on effect of positive outcomes, such as increased self-esteem, reduced anxiety, improved sleep and may even slow the progression of symptoms.
At TriCare Aged Care Communities, our residents living with dementia participate in a wide variety of activities designed to suit their unique abilities, interests and level of health. And while every resident is different, some activities seem to be particularly well-received. So read on to learn 5 activities that provide purpose and joy for those living with dementia.
1. Activities for relaxation and pleasure
Some of the best options for this group are simple, slow activities that offer an easy way to relax and enjoy the moment. Depending on our residents’ interests and preferences, this could include playing or listening to their favourite music, painting or drawing a picture, knitting or other crafts, doing a jigsaw puzzle or simply reading a book together. For those who enjoy being social, a regular morning tea with a small group can be ideal. There are so many possibilities! To get the most benefit, it’s a good idea to spend some time getting to know more about the person and their interests, to tap into their passions. Maybe they have a love of gardening? Or jazz music? Or reading crime novels? Once you have some insight into their personality and tastes, you can find relaxing activities that resonate with them more personally.
2. Activities in the great outdoors
It’s no secret that nature soothes the soul and that making time to get outside often is highly beneficial. Depending on the mood, level of energy and the weather, we may guide our residents on a leisurely stroll around the gardens or sit and enjoy the scenery on one of the many benches dotted throughout the grounds. We also often enjoy breakfast on the patio listening to the birdsong or a cuppa on the balcony taking in the views. Each day we look for appropriate moments to get outside and make the most of the tremendous benefits on offer.
3. Activities that provide movement
No matter your age or stage of health, incorporating an appropriate level of daily movement is essential to feeling good. It doesn’t have to be strenuous—a short daily walk around the community (inside or out) is ideal, or enjoying some simple, low impact chair exercises while seated can bring benefits. There are many incidental ways to incorporate more movement, from taking the long way to get to the dining room to have the resident assist with simple tasks like putting away clothes or setting the table, so always be on the lookout for opportunities to encourage this.
4. Activities that stimulate the senses
Our senses greatly influence our experience of life. For those living with dementia, engaging the senses can provide a valuable anchor to the moment, helping to create a sense of calm and peace amongst the confusion. Some excellent sensory tools are available designed specifically for elders, including sensory blankets with tactile surfaces and different sounds. Many daily tasks provide an opportunity to engage the senses, from baking delicious treats to the repetitive task of folding clothes. Scent is a powerful trigger for memories too, whether it’s the smell of fresh flowers, a particular food, or a favourite perfume, which is why learning about any scents attached to special days, people, or events is a great way to engage and connect with those living with dementia.
5. Activities that trigger memories
Finding activities that encourage reminiscence or bring to light happy memories can be a highly effective way to boost confidence and bring joy. As mentioned above, certain scents can trigger memories and take you back to that time and place instantly, from foods, to perfume or even plants. Visual prompts such as sharing photos is another great way to tap into memories. When doing this, take your time to look at each image carefully and slowly while talking about the specific details as you go. Where was the photo taken? Who is in the picture? How did you meet them? What else do you remember about that day? You can also do something similar with other treasured possessions, such as jewellery, knick-knacks and keepsakes.
The right activities can significantly enhance quality of life
There’s no doubt that living with dementia is hard, but there are many ways to bring joy to the everyday. When those living with the condition are assisted and encouraged to participate in activities they enjoy, it’s enriching for everyone—the resident, their family and the team of carers who support them— and it’s clear to see how the right activities really do enhance their quality of life.