The memory loss and impairment that comes with Alzheimer’s disease is frustrating for all involved. For family members and friends, it can be heartbreaking to witness what feels like a long, slow decline; for patients, the loss of memory, skills, and independence can lead to disengagement and depression. Simple activities — including but not limited to the ones below — are a key part of dementia memory care at NewAldaya Lifescapes. They can help lessen depression and anxiety, maintain connections, provide outlets for expression, and improve quality of life and relationships for patients, family, and caregivers alike.
Alzheimer’s and Memory Loss
Alzheimer’s is only one of many causes of memory loss, which is in turn only one of many symptoms of Alzheimer’s. A degree of memory loss is to be expected as we age, and other physical and neurological events — ranging from strokes to brain tumors, traumatic brain injuries, and Huntington’s Disease can all take their toll on short and long-term memory alike.
Generally speaking, Alzheimer’s patients’ short-term memory will be the first to show signs of trouble, with the patient forgetting whether they’ve eaten a meal, repeating themselves in conversation, or leaving the teakettle on the stove and then going to bed. As the disease progresses, other parts of memory are affected, including semantic memory (the ability to retain and process language), episodic memory (the ability to recall past events), and procedural memory (the things we do without thinking about them or necessarily being able to describe them, like riding a bike).
Memory-Reinforcing Activities For Alzheimer’s Patients
While memory loss is inevitable, there’s some truth in the old “use it or lose it” axiom. Alongside other modalities of treatment, activities that stimulate memory and other forms of mental processing can play a role in slowing disease progression while also improving quality of life. These activities are simple, inexpensive, and can be done with what you probably already have close at hand.
Art takes many forms, from singing to painting, photography, drawing, or storytelling. Having an outlet for one’s thoughts and emotions engages creativity and also tends to have a calming effect. If the patient isn’t the creative type but there are certain artistic media they enjoy — film, music, or visual arts, for instance — take time to enjoy these together and discuss them.
Puzzles and Games
Jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, and word searches are all great ways to stay mentally sharp, and can be a good way to engage a patient without it feeling like therapy or a chore. For those with further progression, even simpler activities like matching games or flashcards can be helpful too. Just remember that a patient may not remember all the rules of dominoes, poker, or Michigan Rummy — or might just make them up as they go along — but that’s immaterial. Don’t worry about getting it “right.” Just be in, and enjoy the moment.
Activities that engage the body and mind in tandem are especially helpful. If your loved one was once an avid birdwatcher, gardener, or tinkerer, give them opportunities to exercise their mind and their hands alike. Enlist their help with things like meal prep or setting the table, reminding them that they’re loved and valued. While you’ll need to supervise during some of these activities, they can bring a smile and a sense of purpose.
Memory Box / Memory Book
Long-term memory is remarkably persistent. Even if your loved one has downsized ahead of their move to our assisted living facilities, we encourage family members to keep some meaningful items like photos, home movies, and mementos, and to keep some with the patient as well. Not only are these meaningful, but they can also be a prompt or guide through a treasure trove of memories. You may hear stories you’ve never heard before, gaining new insights into family history and yourself in the process. It can be helpful to record these conversations, since they’re a snapshot of a time long gone.
You may not think of a simple visit as a memory exercise, but it is for you and your loved one alike. Though these visits can feel difficult or awkward — especially at first — we encourage you not to give up, and to keep coming. Even in advanced stages of the disease, where someone may not remember your name or your relationship to them, the warmth of a visit remains even after the memories fade. We understand that visiting a loved one with advanced memory loss can be difficult on many levels, but the memory care team at NewAldaya Lifescapes is here to guide you as well as your friend or family member through this process with knowledge, dignity, and compassion.