Question: My uncle who has Alzheimer’s disease is coming to visit this summer. What activities can the family enjoy together to help make his stay pleasurable?
Answer: Good for you! Sharing time with a family member with Alzheimer’s can be very rewarding—and also a challenge. Combining activities to stimulate the body and mind, while always keeping safety in mind, can enhance everyone’s enjoyment of the summer months. Here are a few tips.
Remember that noise and crowds—such as parades, festivals, even picnics in the park on a crowded day—may overwhelm your uncle. Consider watching parades on television or in the quiet of the car; picnic during less crowded hours and days. Backyard BBQ’s and fireworks can spark happy memories of childhood but can be a fire and safety hazard for your loved one who may not remember the proper use for such items. Never allow unsupervised access to open flames and hot surfaces.
Attending a ballgame may be something your uncle has always enjoyed. Again, large crowds can be overwhelming, so make sure to identify someone in your group ahead of time to be your uncle’s designated “buddy.” Make sure this person always accompanies him to the restroom and the concession stand and stays with him until he returns to his seat. In large crowds the risk of being separated is great and can happen very quickly. It’s always a good idea to have identification and contact numbers in his wallet.
Does your uncle like to swim? While physical exercise should be encouraged, don’t allow him to swim unsupervised, and do not leave children in the pool under his supervision even for a short period of time.
Bicycling can be an enjoyable way to exercise in the summer, but traffic and other stimuli can cause a person with Alzheimer’s disease to become distracted, resulting in an accident or wandering. Look for trails designated for pedestrians and cyclists. Accompany him on the ride or ask a trusted companion to go with him. Helmets are a must!
Gardening can be a pleasurable and relaxing activity but keep an eye on sharp gardening shears or tools and closely monitor their use. Use fertilizers that are not harmful if swallowed accidentally and ensure that the plants in the garden are not poisonous.
Family reunions can cause anxiety as the family member struggles to recall names and faces. Let your hosts know ahead of time so they can arrange for a quiet place for him to retreat to if necessary.
Many families plan vacations and trips during the summer time. Remember that new and unfamiliar places can be confusing for the person with Alzheimer’s disease. Consider simplifying travel plans or traveling to a familiar destination. Alert the Medic Alert + Safe Return registration line of your travel plans and provide them with contact information for your destination.
Often people with Alzheimer’s just enjoy watching. Peaceful moments spent sitting on a comfortable chair in the yard beside a familiar face, watching children play, enjoying flowers, trees, and the breeze can bring satisfaction to you and your loved one.
Adapted from the Alzheimer’s Association website (www.alz.org/co/in_my_community_13328.asp).