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2 Free Activities for Seniors Living with Dementia ~ Life Sketch & What About?

Last updated on May 22, 2021

Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, routines have drastically changed for most of us. Wherever you are, whatever your situation, I hope you are staying healthy, happy and safe.

A shout out to anyone working with people living with dementia–in any capacity–THANK YOU!!! 

Older adults living with dementia need our love, support, and dedication right now more than ever. And lots of fun, free activities to keep them busy.

Discombobulated

Practicing social distancing and limiting “normal” life activities has been challenging and caused distress among my memory care residents.  

Everyone else for that matter. The tension is real. Routines have been disturbed, and we’re all tired.

One resident who survived 4 years of German occupation in Belgium during World War II, cried for hours on her 98th birthday in April because her family had to sing “Happy Birthday” and blow kisses to her from the other side of a closed window. They wore masks and gloves. She was distraught and told me she understood how war could ruin lives, but didn’t know why a tiny, invisible virus could ruin everything. “I just want to die.”

Another woman suddenly became very rude to other residents and refused help from staff. She continually wanted to know about the ‘virus thingy’. Her daughter attempted several times over the phone to explain the situation, but she just couldn’t process the info or remember their conversations later. The confusion and fear kept her in an agitated state. 

Since quarantine began a few months ago, I have not allowed anyone to watch current news stories that could depress, scare, confuse, or agitate residents. Besides, there are much better activities to give our attention to.

Do People Living with Dementia Still Read?

Generally speaking, individuals in the early stages of dementia can continue reading without much problem. At times though, the person may forget what they’ve read and need to reread in order to fully understand a sentence or paragraph, especially if the material they are reading is unfamiliar to them.

I encourage my residents in the early stages of dementia to read as much as possible. Whether it be reading on their own or reading along or aloud during group activities. 

Keeping the skill alive is absolutely vital to staying mentally active; participation in activities that spark and increase creative thinking, talking, reading, reminiscing, singing songs, reciting rhymes, telling jokes, and writing poems together.

Reading skills during the middle stages of dementia typically remain but comprehension will begin to decline. The individual may need to read and reread a word or sentence they just read several times. And even then they may not understand or remember what was read and what certain words mean.

A group reading can be very enjoyable at this point. I’ve had many residents over the years tell me they can’t read anymore, but love to hear people read to them. 

Use this opportunity to share worthwhile material, to encourage thinking. Sharing a great story also encourages reminiscing and nostalgia. 

In the late stage of dementia, some people enjoy looking through a book or magazine together, holding a copy of their favorite book, or listening to someone else read out loud. Simple short stories, poems, and rhymes are appropriate. For great book ideas check out my articles “One of the Best Activities for People Living with Dementia ~ Book Club” and “Read Aloud Picture Books ~ The Perfect Gift for People Living with Dementia”

2 FREE Activities Seniors Will Love!

1.Life Sketch

Reading the real life story of another person can often influence or motivate others to be their best self. A life sketch or biography may teach lessons of determination, courage, hard work, love, forgiveness, patience…They may remind us of our own struggles, dreams, successes, and life efforts. A connection with people from the past can help create feelings of belonging to the human family, that each life has meaning, and that we all have something important to contribute. 

No one wants to be forgotten when they are gone. We each hope to contribute to the world and be remembered as a good person. 

Well, there is no shortage of famous, important, interesting people to read about. Check these websites for literally thousands of biographies all for free. 

  • Biography.com
  • S9.com
  • Womenshistory.org
  • loc.gov/collections/
  • achievement.org/achiever

I aim for a 30 minute activity. This includes time to show photos, share quotes, and to tell the person’s story. Although I may read parts of a biography, such as specific dates or quotes, I believe the activity is enjoyed much more when shared in my own words. It’s important to make eye contact, see and respond to expressions/reactions/questions as we learn new facts together. 

Last week, I picked Mister Rogers. I put some of his photos on the whiteboard, then outlined his early life, career, family, philosophy, and contributions to Children’s television. 

This photo is Rogers before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Communication, defending public television from budget cuts. He talked about wanting to help children learn to deal with their problems in a healthy manner, to instill a sense of confidence in the kids he worked with, and to improve overall mental health practices. Senator Pastore, the chairman of the committee was visibly touched by Rogers’ sincerity and passion, and granted public television the funds they requested. 

Finding ways to enhance this activity will make it stand out. For instance, I could:

  • Show a clip of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
  • Play a couple of his songs
  • Discuss some of the important lessons he taught his young audiences
  • Watch one of his interviews
  • Bring hand puppets to put on and talk to/with

Humans are naturally drawn to one another. We are interested in what others say and do. Life experiences are important to share and simple biographies are appropriate during all stages of dementia. 

2. Everything Else or “What About?”

What About? is the category I put all other topics that don’t fit into Life Sketch or biography into. Finding and presenting info for What About? is done in the same way for Life Sketch. Search for interesting groups of people (e.g. Native American tribes), inventions, historical events, animals, insects, nature, National Parks, monuments, strange places, and so on. 

Again, I spend 30 minutes delving into a fantastic subject–looking at pictures, reading quotes, and learning more about something we may have never heard about, might be sort of familiar with, would like to know more about, or be reminded about what we’ve forgotten. 

A lot of times, while researching for this activity, I stumble across a story or event that I’ve never heard before. I am just as eager as my residents to learn new facts. I print a copy for my files–you never know when someone will ask a question or I’ll want to go over a cool topic again. 

Did you know Niagara Falls has run dry several times? Or that it was Mary Anderson who invented windshield wipers? That the coldest place in the Universe is the Boomerang Nebula, with a temperature of minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit? 

Cool stuff, huh!

A Drop in the Bucket

This list is merely a drop in the bucket for “What About?” topics: 

Inventions/Discoveries

Automatic Calculator Circulation of Blood Hot Air Balloon Printing Press Sewing Machine
Air Conditioner Clock Mechanical Helium Parachute Soft Contact Lenses
Animation Diesel Engine Insulin Polio Vaccine Synthesizer
Atom Bomb Centigrade Scale Jet Engine Periodic Table Thermometer
Aspirin Chlorine Locomotive Penicillin Typewriter
Adhesive Tape Dynamite Laser Pacemaker Vacuum Cleaner
Airplane Electric stove/cooker Light Bulb Refrigerator Vitamin A
Bifocal Lens Electroscope Motorcycle Radium Vitamin B
Barometer Electric Fan Microphone Radar Vitamin C
Barbed Wire Elevator Microscope Rocket Engine Vitamin K
Blood Group Electric Motor (DC) Machine Gun Radio Vitamin E
Bicycle Gramophone Oxygen Richter Scale World Wide Web
Chloroform Hydrogen Ozone Safety Match X-Ray
Cine Camera Helicopter Piano Stethoscope Xerox Machine

 

World Events

Wheel Crusades Communications
Modern Alphabets Bubonic Plague Suez Canal
Agricultural Revolution Renaissance Colonization of Africa
Writing Systems Printing Press Suffrage Movement
Legal Codes Explorations Radio
Buddha/Buddhism Slave Trade/Abolition Telephone
Confucius/Confucianism Protestant Reformation Flight
Ancient Romans Ottoman Empire X-Rays
Ancient Greeks William Shakespeare Works Rail Transportation
Aztec Civilization Civil Wars Television
Inca Civilization World Wars Depression/Stock Market
Great Wall of China Textile Industry Adolf Hitler and Nazis
Modern Calendar Colonists in New World Digital Revolution
Jesus Christ/Christianity Boston Tea Party DNA Structure
Muhammad/Islam American Revolution Civil Rights Movement
Gunpowder/Weaponry French Revolution Satellite/Space Travel
Norse Explorers Medical Revolution Internet
University Russian Revolution Apartheid
United Nations China Revolution Terrorism

                                                         

Landmarks

National Parks Worldwide Christ the Redeemer, Brazil Machu Picchu
National Monuments World Mount Fuji, Japan Statue of Zeus, Greece
Mount Everest, Nepal/Tibet Great Barrier Reef, Australia Blood Falls, Antarctica
Empire State Building, USA CN Tower, Canada Ajanta Caves, India
Panama Canal, Victorian Falls, Africa Sanssouci Palace, Germany
Statue of Liberty, USA Sydney Opera House, Australia Pantheon, Italy
Route 66, USA Pyramids & Sphinx, Egypt Treasury of Atreus, Greece
Golden Gate Bridge, USA Machu Picchu. Peru Tarxien Temples, Malta
Niagara Falls, Canada & USA Temples, Worldwide Colossus of Rhodes, Rhodes
Eiffel Tower, France Redwood Forest, USA Knap of Howar, Scotland
Great Wall of China, Beijing Ajanta Caves, India La Hougue Bie, Jersey
Taj Mahal, India Derinkuyu, Turkey Tumulus of Bougon, France
Nuremberg Christmas Market Newgrange, Ireland Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt
The Colosseum, Italy Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany Himeji Castle, Japan
The City of Atlantis, Greece Roman Baths Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy
Confederation Bridge, Canada Hopewell Rocks, Canada Hotel de Glace, Canada
Reflective Salt Flats, Chichen Itza, Mexico Hagia Sophia, Turkey
Petra, Jorden Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Iraq Ha Long Bay, Gulf of Tonka
Valley of Love, Ireland Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines Table Mountain, South Africa
Jeju Island, Korea Paricutin, Mexico Reflective Salt Flats, Bolivia
Aurora, Canada Stonehenge, England Salt Cathedral, Colombia
Angkor Wat, Cambodia Teotihuacan, Mexico Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees, USA
Bermuda Triangle Cahokia, USA Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
The Ghost Trees, Pakistan Cenote, Mexico St. John’s, Canada
Underwater Forest/Kaindy Lake, Kazakhstan Light Pillars, Moscow Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
The Wave, USA Cave of Crystals, Mexico Easter Island, Chile
Loch Ness, Scotland The Nazca Lines, Peru Point Nemo
Okunoshima, Japan Hashima Island, Japan Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa
Valley of the Kings, Egypt Okavango Delta, Africa Pearl Harbor, USA
Strange Things…  
Vantablack Tardigrades Voynich Manuscript
Goblin Sharks Bismuth Aerogel
Giant Tube Worms Vampire Squid Leafy Seadragon
Mini-Black Holes Exoplanets Metapseudes
Gravity Waves The Giant’s Causeway Thor’s Well
Pink Lake Hillier Badab-e-Surt Socotra Island

I hope your interest has been piqued; that you are ready to find awesome material to learn about and share. When possible, I prefer to use first-hand accounts, color photos, and info specific to my area. of the world. 

If you have any questions, let me know. I’d love to hear how your activity goes!

😀 Tamara

 

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