Question: I take care of my husband at home who has dementia and I think he is bored. Do you have suggestions on how I can keep him busy?
The stay at home orders have been stressful for all of us, but this can be especially heightened for someone with dementia. Maintaining a routine is very helpful for people with memory loss. When that gets disrupted, as it has for most of us now, it can increase stress, agitation and difficult behaviors. There are some ways you can provide a schedule and activities to keep your husband engaged and involved throughout the day to reduce this stress.
The first suggestion is to create a schedule for the day and post it in an obvious location. In the Adult Day Program this is a tool that we use to help participants feel safe and comfortable knowing what comes next. The schedule can include times of day or not, depending on your loved one’s ability to tell time. This will provide some structure that often can decrease anxiety. When your husband asks what you are doing, bring him to the schedule and show him what comes next. With repetition you may find he refers to the schedule on his own after you have been consistent in using it as your reference.
When creating your schedule, you will want to consider activities that will engage your husband. The Alzheimer’s Association provides some tips on selecting activities on their website: https://alz.org/help-support/caregiving/daily-care/activities.
Everyone wants to feel useful and productive, so provide some activities where he can help around the house. Depending on his level of cognitive abilities this may be folding laundry, weeding in the garden, doing dishes, sorting mail or any version of a task he used to be responsible for. Do not worry if he is doing the task wrong if it keeps him engaged and content. The goal is to reduce boredom and stress. Even if you must re-do the task later, having that time of him being involved in something should hopefully reduce your stress as well.
Incorporate exercise and fresh air into your schedule. Consider a time to take a walk in the neighborhood or spend time in the yard. You may want to do an exercise class over the internet. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offers free classes over the internet including dance and exercise classes. You can find them here: https://alzfdn.org. They also have classes in a variety of topics including art and meditation.
Many art museums and national parks offer “virtual tours” now and concert halls offer “virtual concerts” that you can access anytime on the internet. These can be included in your schedule. Do not feel your daily routine needs to include something every minute, and feel free to add in favorite TV shows or movie time. The key is to vary the day, so your husband is not sitting in one spot all day. Ideally, this will reduce his boredom and increase the joy he feels in his day. This of course will reduce your own stress.
It is also important that you have the support you need during this time in your caregiving. There are virtual support groups being offered by the Alzheimer’s Association. You can find a list here: https://www.alz.org/cacentralcoast/helping_you/support-groups. Call your local Caregiving Resource Center to talk to a care manager. The Ventura County Area Agency on Aging can direct you to find your local center: 805-477-7300.
I encourage you to reach out to a support group, family and friends. Caregiving during this time of social distancing can feel isolating. I want you to know you are not alone. In Ventura County there are estimated to be over 35,000 family caregivers. You are part of a large community of caring. On behalf of our community, I want to thank you for the love and support you provide to your husband.
Martha Shapiro can reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.