elders walking

After an Alzheimer’s and dementia diagnosis, adapting seemingly insignificant daily activities can have a substantial impact on those living with the disease. Local experts are working together to provide insight to caregivers on how they can provide purpose, meaning and activity in the daily lives of the person they care for through the activation of memories.

Nikki Wegner, occupational therapist and North Dakota program director for the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota-North Dakota, and Megan Dooley, owner of Innovative Therapy Solutions and Consulting, work together to provide care and support programming offered to caregivers by the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We often think about leisure activities and hobbies when it comes to engaging people living with Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Wegner said. “But it may be more meaningful for them to do routine activities that were once a part of their daily lives, but adapted to their current capabilities.”

A person who used to walk the dog may still be able to do so with the support of a family member or other caregiver, and the continuation of a familiar activity can result in achieving a sense of accomplishment and independence that improves their quality of life. But the before-and-after transition of daily activities is often discovered after some trial and error. “I used to work with a woman in occupational therapy who used to paint beautiful landscapes,” Wegner said. “Her daughter brought paints to the appointment only to find that painting frustrated her mother because it didn’t turn out like it used to in her past.”

Wegner worked with the daughter to find other ways for her mother to be creative. They initiated using other mediums and found that her mother could still tap into her creativity, but music and drawing now gave her joy and a sense of accomplishment. Keeping people living with dementia engaged and active can be hard on families, but both Wegner and Dooley have found that involving them in the process has profound benefits.

“People living with dementia lose the ability to initiate,” Wegner said. “They have the skills but need support to get going and sustain the task. Encouragement and assistance are often all they need to activate the motor memory, which brings the familiarity that can lead to a sense of accomplishment.”

The Alzheimer’s Association helps families learn how to initiate activity, whether for mental stimulation or physical activity. Dooley explains that it can be as simple as a trip to the garage or a tour around the house and suggests that the focus is on the process and not an outcome.

“You don’t need a beginning or end to the task,” Dooley said. “Take your dad to the garage and ask him about what you find there. For example, ‘Hey, dad. What did you build with this hammer?’” Other activities Dooley recommends are having the person help with switching out decorations between holidays or taking them on a house tour to ask about their antiques or the people found in the pictures on their walls.

By keeping the person active, you can experience profound benefits in the way they navigate the disease, from their reaction time against falls to being able to communicate the growing frustration that comes after a diagnosis.

“Dementia impacts all motor skills,” Dooley said.” By keeping them active and engaged, you activate memories that strengthen their ability to move forward physically and mentally.”

The Alzheimer’s Association Helpline is available to individuals and families 24/7 for around-the-clock care and support, resource and dementia information, speaking with a dementia expert or setting up care consultations. The Minnesota-North Dakota chapter provides no-charge support, education/classes, support groups, training and other resources.

For more information and to register for upcoming classes and support groups, visit www.alz.org/mnnd or call 1.800.272.3900.

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The Alzheimer’s Association is a worldwide voluntary health organization dedicated to Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to lead the way to end Alzheimer’s and all other dementia — by accelerating global research, driving risk reduction and early detection, and maximizing quality care and support. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementias.