We’re all vulnerable to the effects of isolation and loneliness at any stage throughout our lives. This is especially true for carers looking after people with dementia and other cognitive impairments, and events such as the COVID-19 lockdown can exacerbate situations that are very demanding even at the best of times.
People with dementia rely heavily on routines; they are predictable, easy to follow and reassuring. Routines for those with cognitive difficulties act as anchors, and when these anchors suddenly disappear or are altered, they can feel confused and disoriented, leading to challenging behaviours that are hard on the person with dementia and those caring for them.
Fortunately, there are a few things that can be done to help mitigate the disturbances created by upheavals. If certain routines are no longer possible, such as grocery shopping or scheduled outings with respite services, try implementing new activities in their place. Sometimes, the new activities may not completely allay the stress of a disrupted timetable, but they can lessen the impact and even help to uncover new hobbies and interests.
Here are some activities carers can try:
Relive treasured moments
People with dementia can sometimes feel their identity slipping away as their cognitive abilities decline. Give them a chance to relive fond moments by looking through old photos, letters and memorabilia, listening to their favourite songs or reading favourite books. This can enable them to recall their own history, a deeply satisfying experience and one that reduces stress and anxiety.
You can also simply talk to them about their past and listen to their stories; storytelling can help individuals with dementia feel less isolated and more connected to the present.
If the person with dementia is no longer able to read their favourite books on their own, audiobooks can be a great help. There are many apps that give access to vast libraries of recorded stories.
Discover new hobbies
When certain routines are no longer possible, try encouraging new hobbies in their place. Activities that revolve around repetitive behaviours are very therapeutic for those with dementia, such as playing an instrument, knitting or painting. This can also be a great opportunity to discover an old passion that has lain dormant for years.
Hobbies provide comfort by reducing agitation, increasing concentration and alertness and promoting feelings of joy.
Rinse and repeat
We keep saying it, but repetition really is soothing for those with dementia. Think of the most mundane household tasks that most of us loathe doing, and you’ll find something that a person with cognitive disabilities will probably find incredible relaxing and soothing. These might include folding and stacking clothes, drying the dishes and putting them away, sweeping the floor, or even gardening.
Tasks like these can give them a sense of purpose and normalcy and make them feel like they’re contributing.
Stimulate the senses
Sensory experiences are important to all of us. For people with dementia, the opportunity to experience enjoyable sensory engagement can reduce as their condition declines. As a carer, you can help recreate these experiences by giving a gentle head and neck massage, brushing their hair, or even using fragrant essential oils. A scheduled walk around the garden provides the opportunity to smell and touch different plants and flowers.
Sensory activities are a great way to provide comfort, reduce anxiety and agitation, improve cognitive symptoms and promote positive feelings.
We all know the benefits of exercise, and how effective it is at reducing stress and anxiety. This is of particular importance to those with dementia, and the sooner exercise is incorporated into their daily routines, the more likely it is to be maintained. Luckily, we don’t need gyms to keep fit and healthy; our homes provide everything we need. Check out some great exercises you can do at home.
Scheduling a walk around the block, or even around the house or garden, can be a great way to get some gentle exercise and freshen the mind, and even act as a substitute for scheduled activities like grocery shopping that are longer possible.