Seniors with a dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnoses may find it frustrating not to be able to participate the same way in activities they once loved. This feeling of frustration can grow particularly strong in the summer, with so many activities requiring exertion and mobility beyond the limits of someone with Alzheimer’s. In these cases, it’s more important than ever to find ways to help your loved one engage in activities and outings that bring them pleasure.
The best ways to engage a person with Alzheimer’s involve stimulation of their five senses. While senses can be deeply linked to memory, pleasure from sensory stimulation is meaningful in and of itself, freeing the person from the anxiety and irritability that the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can bring.
We’ve put together a list of fun ways to engage your loved one with activities that get them outside without over-exertion.
Go on a walk
Taking a walk is a low-impact way to help your loved one engage is some physical exercise. While the disease progresses at different paces in every individual case, exercise can have a variety of benefits for someone with Alzheimer’s, including mood, strength, flexibility, balance, and relaxation. A walk also provides many opportunities for sensory stimulation: listening to the sound of birds chirping, observing the sight of a bubbling pond, petting a passing dog, or smelling different flowers in neighbors’ yards.
Digging and pulling up weeds in a garden gets a person’s hands moving and engages their sense of touch. The different sensations of dirt, leaves, and gardening tools provide a diversity of sensory stimulation. The actions involved in gardening will also help older hands stay loose and limber.
At mealtime, take your loved one outside while you grill up a meal of hamburgers or veggies. Grilling provides dual sensory stimulation of taste and smell, and offers a good excuse to invite other members of the family over for some social time. Smell can also be a powerful trigger for memory—your loved one may find themselves reaching for the tongs even if they can’t consciously remember their skill at grilling a burger to perfection.
Recruit your loved one’s help with some simple outdoor chores. It gives them an opportunity to get moving and allows them to feel useful and involved. Ask them to help you hang clothes up to dry, feed the birds together, or water the flowerbed. A person’s ability to perform certain chores will vary based on the progression of their disease and their overall health, but there’s always some small task you could enlist your loved one in that will get them outside and benefitting from mood-boosting vitamin D exposure.
No matter what activity you choose to do with your loved one outside this summer, make sure you’re practicing sun safety for seniors. Never go out in the heat of the day, don’t stay outside for too long without shade, make sure they’re drinking plenty of water, and always bring a cellphone if you’re going to be wandering very far from the house.