an online resource for baby boomers

Interacting with Your Loved One
Who is Living With Alzheimer’s

As a baby boomer, you are at the stage in life where you may be experiencing first-hand the challenges that come with being a primary caregiver for an aging parent or family member living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form memory impairment. As you may know, it can be very challenging to continually develop innovative activities and care practices for your loved one. To help you creatively engage your loved one, we have developed the following article that highlights activities you can adapt even as their sensory experiences change.

Sense of Smell

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, smell can be the first sense that begins to change. Studies have shown that our sense of smell is connected to our brain’s limbic system, which is thought to be where emotion is stored. This is important research because it means that smell is directly related to physical items around us and our emotional experiences and memories surrounding them.

Some fun activities that can help you continue to engage your loved ones sense of smell include:

Smell is also an important component in your loved one’s overall health because it directly affects their eating process, appetite, mood and behavior. As their sense of smell begins to decrease due to changes in the brain, they may not recognize hunger cues, which can cause someone who has regularly had a hearty appetite to become uninterested in eating.

As caregivers, your job is to engage your loved one’s other senses to assist the eating process. Some ways to do this are:

Sense of Hearing

Hearing is the way in which we process sounds from the world around us. As we age it is actually the last sense to begin the deterioration process, even after other senses have begun to fail. Knowing this can help you provide lasting therapies for your loved one from the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s through the last stages of life.

Many times you can elicit a response or show of emotion by using music, poetry and dialogue or scores from movies and plays from your loved one’s youth. Here are some hearing-response activities that you can use throughout your their disease progression.

Music therapy is a wonderful tool for you to use because music is uniquely stored in the brain. It has a number of therapeutic benefits including helping with communication skills, decreasing agitation, enhancing memory and helping reach rehabilitation goals.

Some music therapy methods you can use with your loved one include:

Poetry therapy is another great activity that can be modified easily for the acuity level of your family member. If your loved one is higher-functioning and can engage in discussions, find poems that connect to their lives and talk about what they mean to them. You can also have them compose poetry by writing down phrases they say. As your family member moves into the moderate stages of Alzheimer’s, play word games by asking your loved one to yell, clap or stomp their feet each time you read a certain word. In the late stages, reading poetry can elicit non-verbal responses such as a smile, a frown or tears.

Sense of Sight

Vision is one of our most dynamic senses and allows us to see the world around us. Because the brain controls every aspect of our autonomous systems, your loved one’s ability to see begins to deteriorate as Alzheimer’s changes their brain’s ability to input visual stimulation and process those images accordingly. As their ability to see decreases, interactions with the world around them change and safety issues may arise.

If your loved one has limited vision make sure to approach them from the front so that they are aware of your presence in order to avoid startling them. It’s also a good idea to speak as you approach to alert them to your presence. Tell your loved one if you are going to do something that involves their cooperation. Try not to make sudden movements and keep areas well-lit.

When thinking about adapting activities to accommodate vision loss, remember that contrast is a key component in this process. Some typical methods of using sight-focused activities could include:

The most important thing to remember when developing activities or providing care is to be creative and concentrate on meeting your loved one’s needs based on their abilities and current disease stage. Working together you and your loved one can make new memories that will last a lifetime.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide