Activities that were important prior to a parent or senior’s diagnosis of dementia can continue to be meaningful and provide enjoyment throughout the disease. Your loved one may need help adapting their favorite hobby to their changing abilities, but pursuing this hobby can increase their life satisfaction.
Learn more about how you can help a person with dementia continue to enjoy their hobbies after a diagnosis.
How Hobbies Improve Lives
Studies have shown that enjoying a hobby reduces the risk of depression, improves physical health and increases socialization. Having Alzheimer’s does not mean that a person with dementia can no longer enjoy familiar and new activities.
Ken Dychtwald, CEO of Age Wave, reported to the Wall Street Journal that seniors have up to 7 ½ hours of leisure time in a day but they have no idea how to fill the time.
Hobbies can help fill that time, reduce stress and slow down a decline in memory and thinking skills in a person with dementia.
The Alzheimer’s Association says that physical activities improve brain health by increasing blood and oxygen flow to the brain. The National Institute on Aging states that engaging in creative activities can also improve creativity, memory and problem-solving skills.
The greatest reason to enjoy your hobby is that it is fun. Fun is what makes us happy and participating in a hobby gives you something to look forward to and a topic to talk about.
Tips to Help a Person With Dementia Make An Activity Fun
When you encourage your parent or senior loved one to continue to enjoy their hobbies, your role is to assist and provide guidance as needed.
Make sure that you provide the right activity, place and time for your loved one by using these tips:
- Keep the activity calm. Let your parent know there is no need to rush. You will want to remain calm and patient while encouraging them to do as much as possible on their own.
- Look for a time when your senior loved one is not anxious or restless. Find a setting that does not have too many distractions, too much noise or too many people. Set up a clutter-free work area and make sure there is good lighting.
- Understand that the time of day you choose will have an impact on the success of the project. Most people with dementia have increased agitation at the end of the day, referred to as sundowning. This would be a good time to encourage calming activities like listening to music but not involved activities like woodworking.
Ways to Adapt Hobbies to Match Dementia Abilities
Changes in abilities that come with dementia can make it hard to continue with activities and hobbies. Focusing on how to change the activity so that it is enjoyable can reduce agitation and anxiety.
The first priority for enjoying a hobby is safety. Neither you, your parent or senior loved one is having fun if you are spending the day in the Emergency Room.
Here are some tips on modifying common hobbies to make them more enjoyable and safer for you and a person with dementia:
Art and Handwork
Working on an art project with your parent gives a chance for self-expression. These projects can build purpose into days that are boring or long. Although you may need to help your senior loved one begin the art project you don’t want to make the project too simple. You can help by arranging brushes, mixing paints, threading a needle or offering suggestions on how to start and the next step to take.
The biggest way you can help is by taking an interest in what is being created. Use the project to trigger a conversation or remember earlier times. Remember the process is more important than the result.
Cooking is a great way to spend time together. Not only is it a great way to connect but according to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada, preparing food helps your loved one with dementia to eat better. Safety in the kitchen is your biggest thing you will need to be aware of. You can check that burners are turned off and provide direction and supervision. You will also want to keep the kitchen setting simple. Only take out what you will be using to avoid confusion. You can use a placemat that has a sharp color contrast from the foods you are preparing and also to reduce slipping.
Depending on the stage of your parent’s dementia, you can provide help with following recipes or simple step by step directions to complete the dish.
Music is incredibly easy and safe to participate in. Music has the ability to affect parts of the brain that are not damaged by dementia and can result in more meaningful interactions.
You can use a personalized playlist to remember music from earlier years. You can also play an instrument for your loved one or use music in the background to soothe agitation during stressful times.
If enjoying the outdoors was meaningful for your parent or senior loved one prior to the diagnosis of dementia, they can continue to enjoy nature. They may not be able to maintain a full backyard garden but can still find pleasure in harvesting, planting seeds and weeding from the garden.
You can help by reminiscing about their favorite things to grow and picking up seeds or transplants. Set up an automatic watering system or have someone work alongside your loved one in the garden on a regular basis.
Cycling, hiking and walking are also excellent ways to stay healthy and enjoy nature. There are also simple activities like bird-watching at a feeder, enjoying an indoor garden or feeding fish in a tank, that can be fulfilling.
A diagnosis of dementia means that your loved one will eventually have to live differently. But the key is to plan for how to live well with dementia. That includes continuing to enjoy hobbies, our family and friends.
How have you been able to adapt a hobby for a person with dementia? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.