Millions of men and women in the United States are battling dementia and its associated diseases – Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia being the most common – on a day-to-day basis. The idea of losing precious memories and basic thinking skills you’ve had your whole life is alarming to even imagine, and it’s painful to think of forgetting the faces and names of people you love. On the flipside, for the spouses of these men and women with dementia, the prospect of being forgotten or having a loved one change can be challenging and confusing in its own right.
The support of family and friends is very important; a strong safety net can help reassure couples dealing with dementia that dementia is not the end of life or love.
There are many activities that have been shown to help people with dementia by sparking old memories, keeping their brains active, and keeping their spirits up. Enjoying these activities together is a great way for couples dealing with dementia to stay close to one another.
Listen to Music
Extensive studies have been done on the benefits of music for loved ones suffering from dementia. Music can soothe, stimulate, and draw out old memories and emotions. Because rhythmic responses require little mental processing, a loved one with dementia can respond to musical cues. For spouses looking to reconnect with their loved one with dementia, older music with positive memories and associations can help bond and trigger memories that might not have been accessible otherwise.
You can play upbeat music to bring life and movement to a loved one who has been unresponsive, or a calm, soothing piece to promote tranquility if a loved one is agitated. Have you always enjoyed dancing together? Your loved one with dementia can still move to the beat of the music, and some may even enjoy dancing to a favorite song.
For older couples, staying active can be a bit difficult; however, remaining active is very important for dementia patients’ continued health and wellbeing. Research has even shown that regular physical activity may help to slow the deterioration of cognitive functions. Exercise also helps alleviate depression, a common side effect of dementia.
Generally speaking, the more active you remain, the easier it is to stay active – so if your loved one has dementia, finding a physical routine that isn’t too taxing and sticking with it can be an important part of coping with dementia symptoms and staying tightknit as a couple. Water aerobics is a great way for spouses to stay in shape without putting too much stress on the body, and even simple activities like taking a walk can be beneficial to health and interactions.
Go Through Pictures
Similar to listening to music, going through old pictures, photo albums, or even magazines, can draw out old memories and emotions if your loved one is battling dementia. Visual cues from photographs or images from your past as a couple can trigger latent memories and other related memories. Looking through photo albums is a great way to kick off a conversation between couples dealing with dementia – especially if you can find photos of happy memories that involve you both. Keeping old photo albums, magazines, newspaper clippings, and even drawings to bring out on a rainy day can be a great idea.
Play Puzzle Games
Like any other muscle, the brain needs to be worked regularly to stay strong, and because dementia affects memory so strongly, it’s very important to keep a loved one with dementia thinking. Participating in memory games, puzzles, or other thinking-oriented activities promotes a more active mind. While dementia means that a loved one might not be able to keep memories like someone without dementia, getting a good brain workout may help slow the dementia’s progression.
All in all, there are countless activities that couples dealing with dementia can still do together. Hobbies, pastimes and shared interests that couples enjoyed before dementia set in can still be enjoyed or adapted, and picking up new hobbies just means more opportunity for couples to bond. It’s most important for couples dealing with dementia to know that their life and relationship isn’t over – there’s still plenty to see and experience. Are you the spouse of a loved one with dementia? Share your favorite activities and how you spend positive time together!