Staying home: taking care of your loved one with dementia

During the ongoing Coronavirus health crisis, being on ‘lockdown’ at home with a loved one with dementia can be very challenging. This article has been provided by kind permission of France Alzheimer and includes tips and information to help you structure and plan your daily activities.

Plan ahead for the day

diaryHaving a routine is key to creating a reassuring and stable environment especially at the moment. It’s also very important to help the person living with dementia talk about their worries. You can chat about it together and try to help them better understand the situation.

Creating a daily plan and establishing a routine can help the person with dementia to understand what’s happening during the day and provide a peaceful, calm and organised atmosphere at home. That said, you don’t have to follow the plan to the letter.  You can be flexible and adapt it if your loved one becomes agitated or refuses to join in.

Staying active

Even under ‘lockdown’ at home, it’s good for people living with dementia to stay active and continue to do things that they enjoy. Doing activities together creates a feeling of well-being and reduces the level of anxiety or agitation that can arise from sitting still doing nothing.

There are many activities that you can do together.  In the current situation, it’s important to be creative and focus on what you can do at home. Adapt activities to suit your loved one’s own capacity and preferences, so that they don’t become frustrated and give up. Explain the activity clearly and provide encouragement to help them stay engaged.

Some ideas to stimulate cognitive activity

hands knitting

  • Set aside some time for board games or recreational activities depending on your loved one’s preferences and interests. For example, you could hide small objects in a large jar of pulses or pasta and guess what they are by touch, describe the object, or simply find it.
  • Start a discussion using objects that have positive emotional connections, such as family photos or other personal objects. Old newspapers or magazines, letters, or postcards can all revive family memories.
  • Do a craft activity, such as collage or colouring. The person with dementia might enjoy cutting and pasting, knitting, or simple DIY tasks. Adapt the activity to what they can manage and like to do and try to find something that you’ll enjoy too. And don’t forget safety first! Remember, that it isn’t the end result that’s important but the pleasure that the person feels in staying active. Every small completed task can help your loved one to stay motivated.
  • Caring for plants or pets. Spend some time during the day watering the plants or removing the dead leaves. If you have a pet, you can take care of feeding, brushing, washing or stroking it together. Taking a pet for a walk can also be helpful for relieving tension. If you go out, make sure that you follow the recommendations and guidance in place where you live and explain these to the person with dementia, especially if you are in a country where you may be stopped by officials while you are out.
  • Listen to music, sing and dance. Music can stimulate emotions and thinking and help to improve mood, quality of life and a feeling of well-being. Activities linked to music can be very beneficial and can help people with dementia to reconnect with memories and emotions. You could choose specific songs that your family enjoyed listening to or that you danced to or that evoke happy memories of the past. If you’re not sure which songs to choose but you want to find music that stimulates memories and emotions, there are also online resources (grouped by decade) that may be helpful (for example, try the BBC Music Memories website).
  • Invite the person living with dementia to help you with household chores. Depending on their level of autonomy and how familiar they are with the suggested task, you could encourage them to help with hanging out or folding washing, putting away clothes, laying and clearing the table, sweeping the floor, making the bed, preparing vegetables, etc.
  • Get some fresh air and sunshine – through the window, on a balcony or in the garden. Be careful to avoid communal areas and maintain social distancing.

Physical activity: necessary and possible!

It’s important to stay fit and healthy by doing some physical activity. The current situation obviously imposes limitations, but there are other ways to stay active. If the person with dementia enjoys keeping fit and likes to take long walks, staying at home can make them feel edgy. You can suggest other physical activities to use up energy. If, on the other hand, you’re not regularly physically active, this could be an excellent opportunity to start a habit of doing some gentle exercise together. Start with easy exercises to avoid injury. Make sure that you focus on simple activities to avoid the risk of falls or injury.

Some exercises that you can try at home

Adapt the type of exercise you do, the intensity and the duration to each person’s fitness level and general ability, and to the space you have available. Avoid anything that could cause discomfort or pain and stop the session if you or the person with dementia start to feel uncomfortable.

You could try the following exercises at home together:

  • exerciseGo up and down the stairs;
  • Throw and catch a ball;
  • Stretch the neck very gently and slowly by moving the head backwards and forwards. Bring your ear down to your shoulder, then your chin to chest, then the other ear to the other shoulder. Follow the sequence gently, pausing at each step Finally, move your head from side to side as gently as possible as if slowly saying ‘no’.
  • Sit up straight on a chair with your feet on the ground, shoulder distance apart, and raise your arms sideways to shoulder height with palms facing down. Hold the position for 5-10 seconds then lower your arms;
  • Repeat the exercise, but this time lifting your arms to the front. You could repeat the exercises holding a moderate weight as long as neither of you have health problems preventing this;
  • Stand up and then sit down without using your arms. If you have balance or stability problems, try this exercise using an upright armchair;
  • Standing up, leaning on the back of a chair or on a table, come up onto tiptoe and then lower back down;
  • Still standing, bend one knee and then the other several times.

These are just a few examples of how you can stay active at home. “Physical activity” means any movement that expends energy and gets you moving!

If the person living with dementia usually attends a day centre, the staff there may also have given you advice and guidance that you should follow.

The suggestions given here do not in any way replace the advice of medical professionals. If you or your loved one have specific questions about their medical condition, you should consult their GP, memory professional or OT and refrain from doing any of these exercises until you have spoken to them.  

Use technology to stay connected to family and friends

Technology and social networks can help us to stay connected to our loved ones and keep in touch with those we can’t visit in person. Video-calls can be a great way of ‘virtually visiting’ family and friends. However, don’t worry if you don’t have access to technology. A regular phone call is a very effective way of preventing isolation, staying in touch with family and friends and asking for advice or help when needed.

If you need support, don’t hesitate to contact your local Alzheimer’s and Dementia support group: Alzheimer’s Society in the UK, France Alzheimer in France, or find global links at Alzheimer’s Disease International.

This article has been translated by Sprig of Heather and provided by kind permission of France Alzheimer who, in turn, thank the Fundación Pasqual Maragall, Atlantic Fellows of Global Brain Health Institute and la Fédération des Centres Mémoires for their help.

Useful links

Coronavirus: Activity ideas for people living with dementia

Dementia UK advice for people with dementia and their families, regarding the coronavirus

British Gymnastics Foundation: Love to Move

Focus on ACE: Coping Resources

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