What are some fresh ideas I can use to keep my mother with Alzheimer's occupied?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

my mom is at the stage where she still wants to be helpful, but doesn't realize her limitations. I had her roll yarn into balls for quite a while because it kept her occupied while I could get other chores done. I have had her sort coins for wrapping into rolls,shell peas and beans, sort old pens/markers as to whether they still write or not, sort craft paper by colors, etc ....but I need some new ideas. It takes several repititions before she learns a new task and if no one stays near her, she gets confused after 15 to 20 minutes. Any suggestions about how to occupy her? TV doesn't work because she really can't tell whether she is watching a commercial or a program.

Expert Answers

Monica is an occupational therapist and designer of adapted dementia products through her company MindStart. Activities for Persons With Memory Loss. In addition, she works with the Minnesota-North Dakota Alzheimer's Association and the University of Minnesota on dementia issues. MindStart provides age-appropriate and stage-appropriate dementia activities, such as games, puzzles, and books. The items are simplified to meet the needs of various stages of dementia while remaining dignified and familiar in appearance

It sounds like your mother is in the middle stage of dementia, where she does best with one step, repetitive tasks, with some oversight to stay on task. I commend you with the ideas you have done for her; you really have keyed into what she still can do and matched activities to that. Here are some more activities for Alzheimer's patients at this stage that I suggest: sort playing cards by suit, color, or number; sort colored socks; fold hankerchiefs or cloth napkins; sort large, colored buttons; sort quilting fabric swatches; wind ribbon onto spools; peeling corn on the cob; polish silverware (use non-toxic method); games or puzzles designed for persons with memory loss. At this stage, your mom likely will need help to get started and some cuing to continue. Also, try to avoid the use of small objects (i.e. small buttons) which may mistakenly be put into the mouth. Good luck - you are doing well!

Community Answers

Family-first answered...

This service is such a blessing for carers who are beginning to experience those early fears about how best to maintain well-being. We have a few golden rules which have proven to work really well. In this situation we would use "Nothing new". Monica makes the same point by supporting keying in to what the Mum recognises as a skill/activity. In addtion to this there is nothing more satisfying and boosting when family sit together and recall all the years they have known Mum and record the scores of moments/activities/ interests they know Mum really engaged in with FEELING. This "score" is similar to the score a composer would use when conducting an orchestra. The history contains all the 'notes' which, when introduced by the conductor, brings out beautiful harmonious responses which truly boost well-being. The lifetime of our parents contains a gold mine,by lovingly tuning ourselves into their happiest experience which WE KNOW from our time with them,we will always find a 'nugget' of happy times and interests.

Heavenlyrn answered...

My parents recently had their 65th wedding anniversary. Prior to their anniversary I asked my siblings and all of the grandchildren to write their memories of their parents/grandparents. I then took these stories and added as many photographs as I could, to correspond to what was being said in the text. I increased the size of the font so that my mom could read it better, and the result was a 144 page book!! My mom reads and re-reads that book almost every day! I was thrilled to see the joy it has brought to her - and my dad - and it keeps her busy and happy remembering all of the good times we have had as a family.

Kathryn pears, mppm answered...

You represent a sense of security to your mom and when you are not around she becomes confused and gets anxious. Caring for someone at home is very demanding and it is frustrating to not be able to get your chores done.

Your intuition about activities appropriate to her stage is right on target. I would suggest going one step further and involving her in helping you with your chores. Most activities can be modified in one way or another to make them successful for her. If you have children you probably already have an intuitive notion about how to match activities to appropriate levels of ability.

When thinking about what she could do focus on remaining strengths instead of limitations. For most women of her generation household chores are a well-established memory that you can tap into.

For instance, although she cannot prepare a whole meal by herself she could probably assemble a salad if you got all the vegetables set out in front of her. If her knife skills are impaired she could still place the ingredients you have cut up into the bowl. Folding towels when you do the laundry is another possibility. Could she still run a vacuum? Wipe down a counter? Set the table?

You may have made her famous beef stew a thousand times, but include her in the activity by asking her advice "“ is this enough carrot, would you use more potatoes? You get the idea.

Even passive involvement in an activity is involving her and providing her with much needed stimulation and a way to feel she is a contributing member of the family. And while engaged in assisting you it's a perfect time to reminisce with her about things the two of you did together when you were growing up. Those long held memories are likely still very strong for her and she would probably enjoy talking about them.

Whatever activity you involve her in, remember that the goal is for her to be pleasantly involved and feeling that she is contributing"¦sharing time with you is more important than whether the carrot is perfectly peeled. You are on the right track so keep up the good work.