a group of senior women knitting

Creative and Meaningful Activities for Seniors with Dementia

Dementia causes cognitive and physical function to decline, but seniors living with this disease still retain abilities that should be used and celebrated. In fact, studies have shown that when individuals with dementia continue to use their remaining abilities, it helps them stay at their activity level longer and can even help slow their decline. The key is finding purposeful activities that accomplish something for the individual, whether that’s building self-esteem, providing a purpose or simply being entertained.

“Activities can include everything from arts and crafts to outings and events to everyday tasks,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “As you’re coming up with ideas for activities for your loved one, think about adapting favorite hobbies and daily tasks so that your senior can maintain a sense of accomplishment and independence. This type of validation helps provide confidence, a self-esteem boost and better overall well-being.”

Why Meaningful Activities Are So Important

They can help slow the decline of dementia. Our abilities, no matter how able-bodied we are, are very much “use it or lose it.” If we don’t use our muscles, they atrophy. If we don’t continue to practice a hobby, we may lose our aptitude. And if we don’t use our brains and mental acuity, cognitive functioning can decline. This makes it even more imperative for individuals with dementia to find meaning in daily life and tasks as much as possible. Although caregivers and loved ones may rush to help loved ones, they may inadvertently be causing more harm than good. Our loved ones can still do many things – it just may take them longer and may get done in a different manner than before.

They provide a structure to daily life. A daily routine helps people with dementia feel safe, secure and confident. Scheduling meaningful activities on a regular basis (especially if it’s something you end up doing day after day) will provide structure and predictability, and will perhaps be something your loved one can look forward to.

They give individuals a sense of productivity and self-worth. People with dementia are aware of their inabilities and being unable to do the things they always loved to do. By providing tasks and activities for them to do or help with, it can provide them with a purpose and make them feel a part of daily life and not just a burden to you. This is a great boost to their sense of self-worth and boosts their moods, improves their health overall and provides a better quality of life.

They can reduce challenging behaviors. Aggression, agitation, repetition and other disruptive behaviors are common symptoms of dementia. These symptoms can become worse if individuals with dementia are bored or simply don’t have enough to do. Providing meaningful and creative activities will keep them occupied and engaged, plus give them opportunities to use their energy in a productive manner.

Examples of Meaningful, Creative Activities

Meaningful means different things to each of us, so as you’re coming up with activities and tasks for your loved one, think about what they used to do in the past or a favorite hobby. Adapting familiar activities and hobbies to allow them to once again participate will be incredibly meaningful. Here are a few ideas of how to creatively engage and entertain your loved one with dementia.

Engage them in homemaking activities. Taking care of a home may have been a big part of your loved one’s life prior to the dementia diagnosis. See what tasks can be adapted so that your loved one can help out. She might enjoy helping to set the table, folding laundry or provide assistance in the kitchen. It doesn’t matter how big or small the task is – the point is to get them doing something familiar.

Use music to reach out. Music is a great way to connect with your loved one and evoke memories, emotions and feelings. Music has actually been shown to be an effective therapy in helping unlock parts of the brain that remain unaffected by dementia, helping those with the disease to communicate and share memories. Play music from your loved one’s favorite era, and sing along or dance to the radio. If your loved one was a musician, perhaps their favorite musical instrument will encourage them to play.

Create a work of art. Sculptable clay, markers, watercolor paints or simple paper and pencils can be a creative outlet your loved one can enjoy for hours. Gather all the materials you need and lay them out on a table so your loved one can easily see and request what they want. You can either do a directed activity (like making a vase or painting a picture of a flower) or let your loved one go free-form. This is a fun activity to do together, and it makes it easy for you to show how to use the items if your loved one needs a little push.

Go outside. Being in nature is a delight for all the senses. Take your loved one on a walk or stroll through a nearby arboretum to enjoy the sights, smells, sounds and feels of the world around them. Another fun activity is to create a garden together. Your loved one may enjoy helping you plant seeds, arrange flowers, weed the beds and watching their labor blossom. Vegetable gardens are an all-time favorite, as the products can be harvested and then used to create delicious dishes (which your loved one can help prepare as well).

Watch old family videos or look through scrapbooks. Looking at pictures of your shared history allows you to talk about your memories and can even jog recognition in your loved one’s brain. If your loved one is in a good frame of mind, you can ask questions about their childhood and inquire about different people in the pictures or videos.

“Providing creative and meaningful activities for your loved one will not only help them live a better quality of life, but will also help nurture and deepen your relationship with them,” says Andrea. “Even though their memories may be fading, there are still opportunities for you to have happy moments together and create memories. Use your imagination and your knowledge of your loved one, and you’ll find yourself with a variety of activities to do, experience and enjoy together.”

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

senior woman and caregiver drinking coffee together

A Caregiver’s Guide to Effective Communication Strategies for Dementia

Communication with others is essential to every aspect of our daily life. We’re always communicating, whether it’s with a glance, our voice or sending a text. For most of us, our brains allow us to filter the communication we receive and use it to inform our actions and responses. For someone with dementia, though, the disease causes the brain to change in a variety of ways, making what we consider normal communication challenging. This poses many difficulties and frustrations for both the individual with dementia and their loved ones.

“It’s easy to forget that just because the person with dementia isn’t able to communicate in the way we’re used to, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to communicate,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “The desire to connect and be heard is still present, even as the brain is affected by the disease. Caregivers need to have good listening skills, patience and develop new strategies to help improve communication between themselves and their loved ones.”

Early-Stage Communication in Dementia

In the early stages of dementia, one of the first things a caregiver experiences is that their loved one will forget things or have a hard time speaking. Verbal communication is one of the first abilities that becomes hijacked by the disease, causing individuals to have difficulties including:

  • Not being able to find the right word.
  • Reverting to a native language.
  • Repeating questions, words or stories.
  • Substituting words.
  • Mixing ideas and phrases together.
  • Describing an object instead of calling it by its name.
  • Speaking less often.
  • Losing a train of thought.

Caregivers may at first find communication confusing in this stage because the individual still functions at a high level and acts “normal.” Here are some tips for establishing successful communication in these early stages:

  • Continue to communicate with your loved one and don’t assume that he or she doesn’t understand what you’re saying because of the disease.
  • Ask your loved one what they need help with, and what they’re comfortable doing on their own.
  • Don’t speak over or exclude your loved one from conversations. He or she is still an adult. In the same vein, always speak directly to him or her.
  • Give your loved one plenty of time to respond when you ask questions. Resist the urge to interrupt.
  • Ask simple questions and give limited choices if necessary. Complicated questions and run-on sentences can be confusing.

Mid-Stage Communication in Dementia

The middle stage of dementia is usually the longest and can last for many years. During this phase, your loved one will find it more and more difficult to communicate, and will require more and more personal care. As a caregiver, you will find that you are responsible for quite a lot, such as direct care, coordinating assistance and juggling everything your loved one needs with your needs. Here are some tips for successful communication during this stage:

  • When talking to your loved one, minimize distractions as much as possible. Due to the disease, he or she will have difficulty filtering out background noise, like the TV or a crowd.
  • Speak slowly, clearly and with eye contact. Keep your voice pleasant and calm, since your loved one will understand your tone of voice even if they can’t interpret what you’re saying.
  • Give your loved one plenty of time to respond, and resist the urge to interrupt or suggest words.
  • Be kind and offer reassurance as much as possible. Let your loved one know they are safe and loved.
  • When you become frustrated, avoid the urge to correct or criticize. Listen to the meaning behind what your loved one is saying and try and interpret from there. Is he or she hungry? Thirsty? Need to use the bathroom?
  • When performing tasks, break them down into simple, step-by-step instructions. Once each step is completed, your loved one can continue to the next.
  • Give visual clues while you’re speaking. For example, if you say, “are you hungry?”, point to the refrigerator. Or if your loved one is performing a task, you can demonstrate what needs to happen to give them confidence.
  • Consider writing notes and placing them around the home can help reduce confusion and repetitive questions.

 Late-stage Communication in Dementia

In the final stages of dementia, your loved one’s ability to communicate verbally will decrease or go away entirely. He or she may rely solely on nonverbal communication such as sounds or facial expressions. He or she will require around-the-clock care, and this is usually a point where you as a caregiver will need to hire additional assistance or place your loved one in a Memory Care community where they can receive the assistance they need. Here are some tips for successful communication during this stage:

  • Encourage your loved one to communicate nonverbally. Ask him or her to point to things and ask questions to figure out their intent.
  • Use other senses to communicate with him or her. A caring touch, delicious smells or happy sounds are great ways to bond.
  • Think about how your loved one is communicating to help determine what they’re communicating. Sometimes the emotions they’re expressing are more important than the words coming out of their mouth.
  • It’s okay to not speak if you don’t know what to say. Your love and presence can sometimes be all that’s needed.

 Overall Tips for Successful Communication

  • Be patient with your loved one and give them plenty of time to express themselves.
  • Learn how to interpret what they’re really saying by paying attention to nonverbal clues.
  • Pay attention to your body language, because actions can really speak louder than words.
  • Always treat your loved one with respect – don’t speak down to them or use baby talk.
  • Offer choices to provide your loved one autonomy.

If you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a break and do something kind for yourself. A rest can give you just what you need to refocus and provide the best possible care for your loved one.

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.

Senior woman looking worried

Understanding Challenging Dementia Behaviors: Paranoia/Suspicion (Part 4 of 4)

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias affect the brain in different ways. Memory loss is one of the most well-known hallmarks of the disease, but if you speak to caregivers and professionals, you’ll soon hear about “challenging behaviors.” In this four-part series, we’ll explore some of the more challenging behaviors you may have to address as a caregiver to someone with dementia.

Generally, trusting our family comes naturally to us. Which is why it’s so jarring if your loved one with dementia suddenly becomes suspicious of you, accusing you of stealing or other improper behavior. Although paranoia and suspicion are common symptoms of dementia, that doesn’t make it any less hurtful.

“It’s one thing to logically understand what’s happening to your loved one, but it’s another thing entirely to view it as a symptom of the disease and not a direct reflection on how your loved one feels about you,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. “The delusions are very real for the senior, which is another reason why this behavior can be so challenging and disruptive for caregivers.”

Delusions, which include feeling paranoid and acting suspicious, may occur in the mid- to late-stage of dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease. Part of the reason this occurs is due to increasing confusion and memory loss. Someone with dementia may misplace an item or hide it for safekeeping and not remember where he or she put it, causing them to accuse others of hiding or stealing the items. Another reason why someone is experiencing paranoia may simply be an expression of loss. For them, no other explanation makes sense than that someone “took it.”

Here are some examples of how paranoia can play out with a senior loved one:

  • They forget where they put something, such as their keys or eyeglasses, and believe that another person is taking them when they’re not looking.
  • Your loved one may think you’re a stranger due to the advancement of dementia. They may not believe that you’re their caregiver and be untrusting towards you.
  • They may be scared or suspicious of people they’ve been introduced to, because they believe that strangers can be harmful.
  • Giving directions to them can be difficult, because your loved one may feel like you’re trying to trick them.

If your loved one is showing signs of paranoia and suspicion, the first thing you need to do is understand why it’s happening. It’s possible that these delusions are not dementia-related at all but are due to medication interaction, infection or some other illness. Schedule an appointment with your loved one’s doctor to get a full check-up and see if the behavior is something that can be treated. Even if it’s a dementia-related issue, there are some prescription drugs that may be able to help reduce the symptoms.

Tips for dealing with paranoia and suspicion.

  • Have a plan in place. It’s possible that your loved one could become a danger to themselves or others. Have a plan to de-escalate violence or get help, and act on it if the situation calls for it.
  • Don’t try to use logic. Whatever paranoia your loved one is dealing with is very real to them. Trying to explain the reality of the situation will only serve to make you and them more agitated.
  • Stay calm. Remaining collected will help you manage the situation, and will hopefully keep your loved one from becoming even more agitated.
  • Offer reassurance. Letting your loved one know that they are safe, that they are cared for and that they are loved can help diffuse the situation.
  • Create a distraction. Redirecting your loved one’s attention is an excellent tool for just about any disruptive behavior. Ask for help with a chore, or set your loved one to a task. Taking their attention off the matter at hand can diffuse the situation quickly. You can start by looking for the lost item and parlay that into a different activity.
  • Offers simple answers. Anything that’s too complex can be overwhelming and make their anxiety skyrocket.
  • Make duplicates of items that are often lost. If your loved one is often looking for their wallet, keys, glasses or other regular items, make duplicates and keep them in a safe place. That way, you at least know where they are and can manage the situation quickly (and give you time to go and look for the actual misplaced item).
  • Find ways to make it easy for loved ones to inspect things. For example, if your mom is always suspecting that money is missing, give her small amounts of money to keep in a purse so she can easily inspect it.
  • Learn where “hiding spots” are. A senior loved one will often have hiding spots where they put things for safekeeping (and then forget they put them there). If you know where these spots are, you can look for “lost” items there first.
  • Let others know the situation. Talk to other family members and friends and explain that your loved one’s symptoms are due to the disease, not who they are as a person.
  • Respond to the feeling, not the behavior. Your loved one is reacting to something they’re feeling, so do your best to determine what that is and react to that.

Knowing how to respond to your loved one’s challenging behaviors is definitely a challenge of its own. It’s not unusual to feel angry, frustrated or hurt. By reminding yourself that everything your loved one is doing and expressing is because of the disease, you may be able to manage what you’re feeling and your reactions. Remember also that it’s okay to ask for help and give yourself a break when things get to be too much. Dementia is a challenging journey, but with patience and perseverance, you can make it as smooth as possible for yourself and your loved one.

For more information about our community, our culture and our mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.

Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.