My (6 Year) Journey With My Mum Living With Dementia And The Engaging Activities We Embraced To Improve Her Health And Wellbeing

My (6 year) journey with my mum living with dementia and the engaging activities we embraced to improve her health and wellbeing

I recently got chatting to an Activities Coordinator who was struggling for ideas of how to engage her residents living with Dementia and find suitable activities for them and I promised I would make some suggestions to help her get unstuck!

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Having helped to care for my own Mum for 6 years, living at home with Vascular Dementia, I understand the challenges Dementia can cause when people withdraw from activities, family and friends, and the devastating effect that that level of disengagement can have on a person’s wellbeing.

It’s extremely important to maintain these interests and relationships as it reduces the effects of memory impairment, leading to a better quality of life.

Stimulating Activities Can Help People With Dementia

  • Encourage self-expression
  • Foster emotional connections with others
  • Lessen any anxiety and irritability which the disease may bring
  • Feel more engaged
  • Stir memories

What I have learned through my experience with my Mum is the importance to get to know and understand the life history and what has been meaningful to each individual throughout their lives, what they enjoyed doing and what gave them joy.

Here are just some of the activities I shared with Mum which really helped her to stay engaged and have some fun.

Pet Therapy

Mum loved dogs and had been brought up with them and owned them for most of her life, and then when the responsibility became too great as she got older to have her own, Mum was a great dog sitter for my German Shepherd, Sheba, and my sister’s golden Labrador, Sally. I will never forget arriving to collect Sheba one day, a fully grown 40kg hound, and finding him plonked firmly across Mum’s lap!!

So, when I moved in to care for Mum, our family’s Border Collie, Hollie – aka Hollie the Collie – moved with me and helped to provide hours of entertainment and fun. Hollie is obsessed with a ball and would be happy playing ‘fetch’ for hours with Mum. Mum would throw it from a seated position in her chair and Hollie would retrieve and drop it back at Mum’s feet for the next throw. The ball went in all directions and sometimes would be thrown to me, but how we laughed!!

Sadly, apart from when she was playing ball, Hollie didn’t engage with Mum – she was a little wary of her, I think… unless, of course, there were biscuits involved! So latterly, I bought Mum her own Companion Puppy, a robotic pet with built-in sensors which responded to motion and touch.

Mum would hate to be left in a room on her own and would become very agitated and upset, however by leaving ‘Wuss’, as she called her puppy, sitting on Mum’s knee where Mum could stroke her authentic feeling fur, feel her heartbeat, and could talk to her and get a response back with its clever BARKBACK technology, it would take away all of her distress and agitation and she would smile and sit for long periods, quite happy with her Companion Puppy.

Companion puppy

Crosswords

My Dad was always the crossword buff in our family, completing the Daily Telegraph cryptic puzzle as part of his daily routine. He would wait until he got stuck toward the end and then he would ‘toss’ a clue over to Mum to help him finish it.

Even towards the end of her life, when she wasn’t able to remember much at all, my sister and I would sit with her every Sunday afternoon and between us complete a quick crossword. Mum could be as sharp as a tack when she was on form and come out with some cracking answers which had evaded both of us! And you could see she amazed herself sometimes with her answers and it really boosted her self-esteem.

By the Seaside Memory Box

Taking Her Back To The Seaside

One of Mum’s very favourite places to be was by the seaside where there had been a holiday home in our family since she was a girl on the east coast in Lincolnshire.

Every year, as children, we would depart for the 6-week Summer holidays, complete with trunks, bicycles, tennis racquets, and friends in tow to enjoy the beach, swimming and surfing, and the sea air which created many happy memories.

When Mum wasn’t well enough to travel there anymore, on the occasions we went, she would say, ‘Send my love to the sea’. And because I knew how much it meant to her I wanted to find something to help evoke those memories for her.

I came across these beautifully crafted and thoughtfully put together themed memory boxes which are ideal to help people reminisce and participate in an activity they once enjoyed. This ‘At The Seaside’ Memory Box contains lots of interesting and diverse sea-side artefacts including shells, a boat, a bucket and spade, a windmill and more. The box and its contents which Mum enjoyed getting out and handling, helped her to remember happy times by the sea and prompted many conversations and laughter as we reminisced.

Reading

Mum had been an avid reader for all of her adult life and a member of the local library. When her eyesight failed so much that she could no longer enjoy even large print books, I would read to her from some of her favourite books, and invested in a good quality radio/cd player along with some audio books. This served a dual purpose as she loved music and singing, and would happily sit and listen to ‘Ol Blue Eyes’ – Frank Sinatra who was her, not so secret, crush!

The Pantomime

Mum had always loved the pantomime from a young age, taking us as children and then treating her grandchildren when she was well into her ‘80’s. She would end the venture with a trip to McDonalds on the way home! Sadly, Mum’s fear of heights and stairs later prevented her from continuing our annual trips, until I found a Dementia Friendly panto in 2018 at Nottingham Playhouse. I will always be so grateful that we made that trip to see Robin Hood, that Christmas. Just to see her light up again, joining in, singing along and booing at the baddie was priceless for me.

Mum always fancied herself playing the part of the Principle Boy, in the tights and the long boots – she has great legs – and doing the high kicks!!

At the pantomime

Pampering Sessions

Mum has always taken great pride in her appearance, including weekly trips to the hairdresser furthermore having a mobile beautician do her nails at home.

So, when she became less mobile, we found a mobile hairdresser who would come to her house every Thursday and do Mum’s hair at home and the nail treatments continued. Mum loved her make up, too. Every Sunday we would take her out to lunch at the local golf club where she had been a member for many years. Mum would still put on her lippy perfectly, without a mirror and a little face powder, a hint of her favourite perfume and her beloved pearls, and always a smart outfit.

It was very important to her that she looked nice which also made her feel nice.

Pampered mum makeover

Singing

As a young girl my Mum had taken singing lessons as she had a great singing voice. My sister and I also shared this love with her and would take every opportunity to both serenade her to encourage her to join in with a song; anything from a rousing hymn to a wartime melody would help lift Mum’s spirits. I remember fondly taking her for a walk in her wheelchair whilst we sang at the tops of our voices, and then giggling like naughty school girls to songs such as ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ and ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’, much to the entertainment of other walkers!

I also found a local inclusive community choir called Singing for All which included people living with Dementia, Parkinson’s, depression and people who had recently been bereaved. Here was a safe place where people with a wide range of medical conditions could get together, in a positive atmosphere where everyone was made to feel valued as part of a group, and enjoy success.

Mum loved her time there, and when offered a tambourine she would happily tap it in time to the music whilst singing along and occasionally standing to sway to the music.

These are just a few of the ways we helped to keep Mum engaged which brought joy and meaning to all of our lives as we witnessed the palpable transformation in her mood and quality of life. Sadly, we lost Mum on Mother’s Day this year at the age of 99 – however, these memories we will cherish for the rest of our lives and help to bring us peace, knowing we made a difference to the quality of her life during her twilight years.

If you would like any further information on any of the activities mentioned, we would be delighted to offer you advice or product information on some of the items mentioned in this article.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed the article and find the information insightful. Why not leave a comment or suggestion below!


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