All this is to say that opportunities for engagement are everywhere if you just look around, and sometimes the “props” required for an engaging activity are not too hard to find. Now you might not have a blanket with the Mona Lisa lying around YOUR house, but if you have a computer or know someone with one, a photo of the Mona Lisa could easily be printed out! And I bet you could find a scarf or two, and maybe a map of Italy!
In this time of COVID, I imagine some of you out there may feel starved for ideas to keep your loved ones who are living with dementia involved, alert, and active, whether you live and care for them full-time, or go to visit them in a senior community. Here are some simple ideas (many taken from the work of David Troxel and Virginia Bell) for ways to engage folks with dementia, even if it is only for 30 seconds.
- Remember to make eye contact and smile. Should you need to wear a mask, smile anyway! Your body language and your eyes communicate volumes. When I visit various Ebenezer sites during this time of COVID, I like to keep a large picture of myself WITHOUT a mask hanging around my neck, to remind people of my full face! That might well be reassuring for the person with dementia whom you care for, or need to visit elsewhere, with a mask on.
- Tell someone he or she is loved. This can be such a comfort. Can your family member or friend ever hear this too much?
- Give a sincere compliment. Tell the person what you have learned from them. Remind them of the best advice they have given you and what they have brought to your life. They may appreciate being reminded of the influence they have had on your life.
- Ask the person’s opinion. This conversation starter could be something as simple as, “Do you like oranges or apples better”? Or, something a little more abstract, like…“Does life remind you of a river, or is it more like a mountain?”
- Stimulate creativity. Maybe you’ve got an old greeting card around with an interesting or humorous photo on it, a photo that might inspire a story. You could invite your loved one to help you make up a story about that image. What shall we name that guy?...Where shall we say this happens?... What is he going to do next?...Ask more questions, write it all down, and read the story back. Anne Basting’s wonderful new book Creative Care will give you instruction on how to do this, and many other ways to engage persons with dementia. This book is very easy to read and thoroughly inspiring!
- Reminisce. Remind the person of past accomplishments, proud moments, funny or meaningful events. Ask the person to “tell you more” about each one!
- Keep moving. Get outdoors if you can. Sunlight combats depression. People seem to feel more relaxed in fresh air. Indoors, even if you are both sitting in chairs, you could ask the person to mimic your dance moves to some favorite music. Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain!
- Ask the person to help you with something. Maybe you want to make an apple pie just the way your Grandma did. Maybe Mom can help you reconstruct that recipe, and you can write it down just the way she says it, asking her questions (and reminiscing) along the way. We all need to feel needed. Be sure to thank Mom for this help!
- Recite a favorite poem, the words to a song, the pledge of allegiance, or a couple lines of Shakespeare. Everybody has memorized something from long ago. See how many things you both have memorized, and may still remember!
- Use the computer to visit some museums virtually. There are lots of places to see!
You might even be able to see the Mona Lisa! Last I checked, she was still at the Louvre in Paris! That’s #4 on the list provided by that link!
Take care, be well, stay safe.
- Marysue Moses, Ebenezer Dimensions Program Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to David Troxel and Virginia Bell, https://blog.healthpropress.com/2020/05/30-dementia-care-activities-during-covid-19/, Teepa Snow, and Anne Basting for supplying some of the ideas described here.