Activities for Persons with Alzheimer’s Disease

Jillian Brasch | January 20th, 2011

catphoto2I’m often asked about what activities to use with persons who have Alzheimer’s Disease, so I’ll be including them from time to time in this blog. I met a woman recently who told me that she placed some playing cards on a table in front of her mother and asked her to match them. Her mother became agitated after just a few minutes. Then she remembered that her mother loved costume jewelry, so she  placed ten pairs of her mother’s earrings on the table and asked her to match them.  Her mother loved this activity, handling the beautiful jewelry a piece at a time. Did she recognize the earrings as hers? I don’t know. But something about the activity was enjoyable and soothing to her. What do you think would be soothing to the person with Alzheimer’s in your life?

Sometimes people with Alzheimer’s Disease can still knit or crochet. One of the keys is to find something familiar to them and see if they know what to do. Do they pet a cat that is put into their lap, or do they become agitated? When working with someone with Alzheimer’s, remember that they may not be able to respond to the words you’re saying because they may not remember what they mean. They may not remember the words “knitting” or  “crocheting,” even if they’re able to do the activities if you put needles and yarn into their hands. They may not be able to respond to the words you’re saying, but they will respond to your mood, body language, and tone of voice. So speak to them naturally, calmly, and with kindness. There’s a difference between calling someone a term of endearment, or speaking to them in baby talk.

I was recently in Atlanta to speak at a hospice conference. The first person I spoke with was the woman who sold me a ticket for the shuttle from the airport to my hotel. I was stressed because my luggage was a little late, and I needed to get to the hotel as soon as possible. She could see my stress and assured me by calling me “Sugar,” except with her beautiful Southern accent, it sounded more like “Sugah.” She called me this about four or five times, and by the end of our conversation I felt that all was right in the world.  If she had spoken to me in baby talk, or without compassion, I would have felt frustrated and inadequate. Instead, with that sweet term of endearment, she calmed me down.

When working with a person with Alzheirmer’s Disease, or any dying person, remember to be in the moment and trust your intuition.

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