Self-Soothing Repetitive Activities Often Favored by People With Dementia

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Does your loved one sometimes play cards obsessively or seem to lose himself or herself to some other familiar activity, like painting, knitting, or raking leaves, for hours on end? Caregiver Gary Joseph LeBlanc, author of Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness, calls this activity a kind of "safety bubble" that people struggling with cognitive trouble often turn to during a moment of clarity. (For his dad, it was hours of solitaire.)

A soothing, repetitive activity allows the person with moderate dementia to block out the worry and effort involved in keeping on top of cognitive changes. So if you notice your loved one engaging in this sort of behavior, don't dissuade it, embrace it. It may be providing welcome sanctuary at a difficult time. You may even be able to interest your loved one in developing such a habit.

Other common examples:

  • Rummaging through drawers (Consider devoting a junk drawer to the purpose.)

  • Washing dishes

  • Picking up sticks in the yard

  • Winding yarn

  • Organizing a tool kit or tackle box

  • Arranging books

  • Dusting or vacuuming

  • Stringing beads

  • Walking around a yard (safe if the area is secure) or room

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio