by Joanne Webb
Q. My husband is non-verbal/late-stages (Alzheimerís disease); what type of things can I do to continue to keep him engaged?
A. Coming up with appropriate late-stage activities can be a challenge but it may take less effort than you would imagine. The challenge lies mainly in learning to think in a new way about familiar activities, keeping an open mind about what may work and paying attention to your husbandís responses.
It is best to start by considering what your husband has enjoyed in the past, and try to break those activities down to the more basic elements. If for example, your husband loved playing golf, simply being outside in a park, playing simple lawn games, or watching others play could be enjoyable to him. You will want to take an inventory of his current abilities such as memory, attention, motor, social and sensory skills (like smell, touch, etc.). Everyone has different strengths, and preferences in the various skill areas and these continue to change over time. A retired draftsman with fairly late-stage AD had great difficulty with speech but he could draw almost perfect squares and rectangles with obvious pride. For him drawing was a skill that he partially retained and with assistance it was an activity he could still enjoy. Another very frail woman seemed unengaged with the world around her until she was asked if she had enjoyed dancing when she was younger. With the mention of dancing she nodded repeatedly with great enthusiasm, surprising even her husband. Simply talking to her about this favorite activity, which she had not been physically able to do for years, made her glow with pleasure. For someone extremely limited in memory, language and motor skills, using the most basic sensory skills, like feeling different textures, seeing pretty colors, smelling nice smells or hearing familiar music could be stimulating and enjoyable; it really depends on the individual. At each stage of the disease, being aware of your husbandís preferences and current levels of skill in different areas will help guide your approach to finding what will work.