Caring for someone living with dementia? Try these activities at home
published on 24 May 2019
Anneliese is a Salvation Army employee working with older people. This Dementia Action Week, Anneliese shares some advice for people caring for someone with dementia.
I run group activity sessions at The Salvation Army’s care home in Essex. I work in partnership with The Salvation Army’s nearby Hadleigh Farm to explore animals, the farm and nature with our residents. Activities include singing songs, craft, quizzes, holding small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs as well as handling farm tools and produce such as vegetables, wool and eggs. The residents have also been on trips to Hadleigh Farm to meet the animals and take in all the sights and smells of a working farm.
We have developed these sessions using Cognitive Stimulation Therapy techniques.
Cognitive stimulation is recognised as an effective non-drug treatment for people living with mild to moderate dementia. Sensory activities are used to help trigger memory and stimulate the mind in order to keep it active.
Doing something practical with the person you love is a great way to spend quality time together. It’s important to offer a range of activities so the individual doesn’t feel restricted. Work out what you both enjoy.
Here are some ideas you could try to stimulate all the senses:
We’ve visited Hadleigh Farm Rare Breeds Centre to interact with the animals.
Could you visit a local city farm or animal sanctuary?
Interacting and handling animals can be a great trigger for memories. It’s good to ask questions based on opinions rather than facts. For example, you could ask about how the coat feels when they are stroking the animal or if they like the colour of the coat.
Picture comparisons can be a great way to encourage conversation and engagement. We’ve been sharing pictures of animals but you could try printing out old and new technology like an old washing machine verses a modern one or an old landline phone verses a mobile phone.
Use the images to ask the person with dementia to describe the differences - you may find they remember using the item or have something to say about how things have changed.
The Salvation Army has developed a music resource called Singing by Heart, a collection of well-known hymns and secular songs. We have adapted this resource for our sessions at Bradbury Care Home, choosing farm, nature and animal themed songs. We have also recorded animal calls and sounds from the farm for added stimulation.
Playing recordings of recognisable songs and sounds can be a great conversation starter. You could consider buying some small instruments like a tambourine or an egg shaker to encourage interaction.
We’ve brought produce from the farm such as fruit and vegetables to Bradbury Care Home for the residents to taste.
If you visit a farm or your local supermarket you could pick up some foods you know the person you’re caring for likes and mix this with some new tastes.
Use the food to open up discussion about flavours and textures and how they might be grown. Pictures of food can be a good way to talk about topics like healthy eating or favourite foods.
Many of the techniques above will also incorporate smell. When we visited the farm, there were lots of smells to talk about – some more pleasant than others.
You could also visit a farm, botanical garden or simply venture into your own back garden to smell and describe the different plants and flowers you come across.
The most important thing to remember is to keep the activity you choose fun and enjoyable for all involved. There are benefits to be had for both the person living with dementia and those caring for them.
Cognitive stimulation is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for people with mild to moderate dementia.
If you would like to read more about using Cognitive Stimulation Therapy techniques at home, try volume three of the Journal of Dementia Care’s ‘Making a Difference’ series:
- Yates L, Orrell M, Leung P, Spector A, Woods and Orgeta V (2014) Making a Difference: 3: Individual Cognitive Stimulation Therapy; A Manual for Carers. London, Hawker Publications Ltd.