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Family members often articulate the difficulty of making time with individuals with dementia meaningful for everyone. As dementia progresses, finding mutually enjoyable ways to spend visits can become increasingly challenging. The following ideas might help.
Activities and conversation can be modified for family members with dementia (see Visiting Older Adult Friends and Family Members: Making the Most of the Time). Rather than sorting family pictures, consider simply looking through old family albums. But be mindful that for an individual with memory deficits, family albums can feel like a quiz rather than a fun activity. For some, a memory book is a useful tool for reminiscence. But if your loved one is no longer able to recognize once-familiar faces, art books or photo books from the library might provide a more failure-free vehicle for engagement.
David Troxel of The Best Friends Approach, suggests bringing the latest USA Today when visiting individuals with dementia. You can use the weather map to talk about different parts of the country, read articles together (many folks with dementia continue to read throughout the early stages of the illness), or just talk about the colorful images throughout the paper.
Troxel says in the past he’s brought an armful of clothes and invited his mom (who had dementia) to help him select outfits for upcoming events. He also kept a roll of wrapping paper in his mom’s room and together they’d do his gift wrapping.
If the activities listed above don’t seem feasible based on your loved one’s cognitive ability, you can still make your visits special. Giving a hand massage provides positive and soothing human contact. Reading favorite poems or literature out loud, or listening to music together can also create good feelings for everyone. Sometimes curling up next to a loved one is the perfect way to show affection.
It’s easy to assume that because a friend or relative has dementia, your visits aren’t remembered, or special. While the specifics of your visit may not stay in your loved one’s mind, the positive feelings, or emotional memory, can permeate throughout the day. And the benefits are often reciprocal.