1. Learn and grow together.
Loved ones with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, can continue to take pleasure in their favorite activities and meaningfully contribute to others in their lives and communities. One way is through sharing skills with others. A woman in our care, Ruth, 90, loved crocheting blankets, and, after a dementia diagnosis, the hobby continued to be source of comfort and familiarity. Ruth’s new caregiver did not know how to crochet, but had always wanted to learn, so Ruth was excited to teach her, and share her passion with someone else. Now, the two spend their time making blankets – bonding over their shared hobby and sense of accomplishment.
2. Maintain simple pleasures.
Doing the things your loved one has always done—no matter how mundane—can be key to their happiness. Changes in physical ability might prevent them from performing activities the way they used to, but by adjusting your approach—how you execute and talk about these activities—your loved one can maintain a sense of independence, accomplishment, and dignity. A great example is Joe’s story. He was an avid swimmer until the effects of a Parkinson’s diagnosis in his 70’s kept him out of the pool. Joe’s caregiver, determined to help him maintain his passion, learned that Joe loved fishing with his children when they were young. Soon, daily fishing expeditions with his caregiver replaced daily swims, and helped Joe rediscover new joys in an old passion.
3. A little spontaneity is a good thing.
When caring for loved ones, we tend to rely on routines—out of convenience but also with the intention of creating a reassuring, predictable environment for those with physical or mental limitations. But too much insistence on routine, especially when it is not the routine chosen by the individual receiving care, can create boredom and a sense of dependence. Flexibility can bring spontaneity and excitement back into both of your lives. For example, offer choices, invite a friend over for a brief visit, walk a new route or suggest a new game to play together.
4. Keep a ‘can do’ attitude.
Focus your interactions and activities around your loved one’s strengths and abilities, rather than their limitations or insecurities. Talk about your loved one’s aspirations, goals, or experiences they want to have and find creative ways to make them happen. For example, when Henry fell ill last winter, he was unable to maintain his usual, busy social schedule. Staying in his apartment made him anxious and lonely, so his caregiver found a coffee shop nearby where they could go sit all day, read the paper and chat with people. While he couldn’t spend a night out on the town, he found a new “social scene” that made him feel empowered and engaged with the world around him.
5. Tune in.
Truly listen to—or observe—your loved one for signs that they are feeling lonely or helpless. We may not easily come to the solution as caregivers, so it’s essential to understand what your loved one really wants and needs. For example, most of us might readily avoid the prospect of taking on more responsibility. However, for John, a teen living with autism, helping around the house made him feel more independent and capable.
The care experience can be incredibly enriching when the caregiver and recipient work together to find a way to make sure both their needs are met – that the caregiver is providing the highest standard of care possible and respecting their loved one’s wishes, and that the care recipient feels fulfilled and involved in their own care.