While we collectively figure out what life looks like during COVID19, finding ways to stay connected is challenging enough. For those of us who have loved ones living with dementia, we may feel starved for ideas as to how we can keep them involved, alert, and active. Here are some simple ways to engage seniors living with dementia – even if it’s only for a moment.
Remember to make eye contact and smile.
Smiles are infectious, and your body language and your eyes communicate volumes. Should you need to wear a mask, smile anyway! You might also consider wearing a photo of yourself around your neck that shows you without a mask, as a way to reassure the loved one you’re visiting.
Tell your loved one that he or she is loved.
Words of affection can be a tremendous comfort, and no family member or friend can hear too often that they are loved.
Give a sincere compliment.
Tell your loved one what you have learned from them. Remind them of the best advice they have given you and what they have brought to your life. Being reminded of the influence they’ve had may spark their appreciation and help you to connect.
Ask the person’s opinion.
As with any friend, try engaging your loved one with a conversation starter. You might ask something as simple as “Do you prefer oranges or apples?” For a different approach, ask something more abstract, like “Does life remind you of a river, or is it more like a mountain?”
Look for ways to engage your loved one’s creative side. If you’ve got an old greeting card sitting around with an interesting or humorous photo on it, you could invite your loved one to help you make up a story about that image. Ask questions (“What shall we name him?” or “Where is he going next?”), write it all down, and read the story back for you both to enjoy. For more ideas on how to engage people living with dementia creatively, take a look at Anne Basting’s wonderful new book Creative Care. You’ll find it to be a very easy read and thoroughly inspiring!
Remind your loved one of past accomplishments, proud moments, and funny or meaningful events. Ask them to tell you more about each one – and help them to savor all the details.
Exercise does wonders, and it’s the single best thing you can do for your brain – so remember to keep moving. If possible, take your activity outdoors. People generally relax more in the fresh air, and sunlight helps to encourage positive mental states. If you’re indoors, you could ask your loved one to mimic your dance moves while you boogie to your favorite music.
Ask the person to help you with something.
Do you want to make an apple pie just the way your grandma did? So do we! Maybe Mom can help you reconstruct the recipe. Write it down just the way she says it, asking her questions and reminiscing along the way. We all want to feel needed, and engaging your loved one this way can be super rewarding.
Recite a favorite poem, the words to a song, the Pledge of Allegiance, or some lines from Shakespeare.
Everybody has memorized something from long ago. See how many words you both have memorized and can remember together.
Use the computer to visit some museums virtually.
Creating a memorable moment together can be as simple as experiencing something new. With technology, we can explore digital art collections all around the world – even if we can’t be there physically. Check out this list of the top 10 virtual museum tours. There are some amazing places to see!
Thanks to David Troxel and Virginia Bell, Teepa Snow, and Anne Basting for supplying some of the ideas described here. Make sure to check out our Ebenezer blog for more tips on intergenerational connection and helpful senior living resources.