How painting, puzzles or a trip to the park can slow down dementia

From todays news press

How painting, puzzles or a trip to the park can slow down dementia

KEEPING the brain active can help maintain relationships and improve mental function, says Dr Lee-Fay Low

dementia, dementia help, dementia puzzles, dementia brain, alzheimer's,
Games and puzzles are a great way to stimulate the brain and maintain levels of interaction [GETTY]
What do you do that gives your brain a workout? I find travelling, attending a course, workshop or conference, organising an event or performing on stage all work my brain. What these activities have in common is they require me to process and react to a lot of new information.
But dementia sufferers often find it difficult to cope with a lot of new information. Many would find it challenging, although not necessarily impossible, to travel, learn something new or go to a crowded event. This is why they are advised to keep to a routine and avoid potentially overstimulating experiences. However there is a downside to sticking to a routine. Routines tend to reduce opportunities to give their brain a workout which is why we should aspire to create a stimulating routine for people with dementia.
Two 45-minute sessions a week is the 'dose' that has been shown to be beneficial in improving cognitive function for people with dementia. Trying a range of activities will help exercise different aspects of thinking and memory. Here are some ideas for stimulating activities:

Start a discussion

This activity is more appropriate for people with mild to moderate dementia. Discussions should not just tap into the person's knowledge about the topic but also their opinions and ideas. Activities could include solving a problem by using a map to plan a long-distance trip, for example. Or you could ask them to arrange three historical events on chronological order. In this type of exercise you are asking them to use knowledge they already have in the activity. You could initiate discussions on topics such as the person's own life, historical events (you could use the Daily Express historic editions as inspiration), famous faces, current events, geography and places.

Do something artistic

People with dementia often surprise us with what they can create when given the opportunity. Perhaps it is because they are less inhibited due to changes in their frontal lobes or because they live in the moment much more than those with better memories. Artists say having a theme or focus stimulates their creativity. Give the person some materials (paper and pens, paints or modelling clay) and a theme to work on and see what they can come up with. Suggestions for themes could include: 'If you had three wishes what would they be', 'A day on the river', or 'Fruit'. You could get the person to observe something in real life and draw it such as a landscape or still life.

Play a game or do a puzzle

Choose games on the basis that they are fun and encourage interaction rather than because they are mentally challenging. Try and avoid games that rely heavily on short-term memory. Don't be competitive unless the person with dementia wants to be competitive. You can also turn games traditionally played competitively or alone into a collaborative exercise. For instance work together on a simple crossword or jigsaw puzzle. Many children's games are also fun for people with dementia. Here are some ideas for traditional games: snap, pick up sticks, Connect four, magnetic fishing games, dominoes, noughts and crosses, picture bingo or scrabble.

Experience nature

Do something that connects the person with the outside world. Being outdoors releases different chemicals in the brain than when indoors and can improve stress levels and increase creativity. Here are some ideas for outings:
• Go for a walk and look for birds or other animals
• Pat and interact with an animal
• Feed the ducks at the local park
• Look at the clouds and try to find animal shapes
• Watch moving water
• Go outside and look for objects of a certain colour
• Collect objects (rocks, leaves, sticks flowers or shells) and arrange them in some way in the house to remind you of the experience

Discuss dilemmas

This activity works better with people with some verbal communication ability as it relies on the person with dementia giving their opinion on any given topic. However you could also use pictures for someone who is unable to speak well. Topics could be:
• Is a cat or a dog a better pet?
• What kind of dog should I get as a pet?
• What is a good present for a child/60-year-old?
• Should I go on holiday to the beach or the mountains?


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